Amazon sues New York AG to preempt a lawsuit

Amazon is going on the offensive. The online retailer sued New York’s attorney general on Friday in a bid to stop the state from taking legal action over its COVID-19 response and its firing of the organizer of a protest.

The legal battle all stems from a demonstration that occurred 10 months ago when Amazon workers protested conditions at a fulfillment center in New York City. The company then fired activist Christian Smalls. Amazon contends he put others at risk by violating a company request to quarantine for two weeks after coming into close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19. The city announced an investigation, and AG Letitia James said Amazon may have violated the law.

In its complaint, Amazon accuses James of overstepping bounds by legally threatening the company and demanding remedies. It says the AG’s office assessed violations regardless of documentation the company provided that included photos of Smalls not social distancing. Reuters was unable to seek James’ comment.

The lawsuit also says Amazon passed an unannounced city inspection of its warehouse on the very day of the protest. It said the warehouse’s temperature checks, signage to encourage social distancing and staggered shifts showed safety complaints were – in its words – “completely baseless.”

The atypical lawsuit underscores how the company believes it was unfairly maligned despite the many precautions it had taken over COVID-19.

Smalls has said he would not stop protesting until Amazon protects its staff. In November, he filed a class action suit seeking damages for Black and Hispanic workers he alleges Amazon put at risk.