Governor Kathy Hochul today announced the New York State Division of Human Rights has filed a complaint against Amazon, Inc. alleging the company engages in discrimination against pregnant workers and workers with disabilities by denying them reasonable accommodations. The Division also alleges that Amazon has policies that force pregnant workers and workers with disabilities to take an unpaid leave of absence rather than allowing them to work with a reasonable accommodation.
“My administration will hold any employer accountable, regardless of how big or small, if they do not treat their workers with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Governor Hochul said. “New York has the strongest worker protections in the nation and was one of the first to have protections for workers who are pregnant and those with disabilities. Working men and women are the backbone of New York and we will continue to take a stand against any injustice they face.”
The New York State Human Rights Law requires that all employers, upon request, reasonably accommodate workers with disabilities or pregnancy-related conditions. This can include modification of job duties that allow an employee to perform the essential functions of their jobs. Amazon, which operates 23 worksites with over 39,000 workers across New York State, employs in-house “Accommodation Consultants” to evaluate such requests and recommend appropriate action. The Division alleges that Amazon’s policy of allowing worksite managers to override the recommendations made by the Accommodations Consultant have caused Amazon employees to be denied reasonable accommodations for their disabilities and pregnancy-related conditions.
The Division further alleges that under Amazon’s accommodation policy, employees with disabilities are forced to take unpaid medical leave even in situations where the Accommodation Consultant has identified a reasonable accommodation that would allow the employee to perform the essential functions of their position without an undue burden. The policy or practice of forcing employees to take an unpaid medical leave of absence diminishes the terms and conditions of employment for employees with disabilities and is against the Human Rights Law.
Division of Human Rights Deputy Commissioner for Enforcement Melissa Franco said, “Since the 1970s – years before the Americans with Disabilities Act – New York State has prohibited discrimination against pregnant employees in the workplace. The Division will work to ensure that everyone in our state is fully afforded the rights and dignities that the law requires.”
In its complaint, the Division alleges a pregnant worker requested and was approved to receive a reasonable accommodation to avoid lifting packages over 25 pounds. However, the worksite manager refused to follow the accommodation – forcing the worker to continue lifting heavy packages. Despite internal complaints about the lack of accommodation, Amazon took no action to ensure the needed change was carried out and the pregnant worker suffered an injury while lifting heavy packages. Subsequently, the worker required further accommodations as a result of the injury. Amazon denied the request and forced the pregnant worker into indefinite unpaid leave.
The Division alleges that another Amazon worker was improperly denied when they requested a modified work schedule due to a documented disability. The worker’s condition necessitated a specific sleep schedule and the worker submitted supporting medical documentation with the request. Prior to the request, the worker had been swapping shifts with a coworker to accommodate this condition without objections from management. Amazon’s Accommodations Consultant recommended that the worker be given the requested modified work schedule. However, the worksite manager refused to implement the accommodation without offering any explanation. The Accommodations Consultant did not challenge the manager’s refusal. Rather, the Accommodations Consultant reversed their recommendation and denied the request citing a lack of a qualifying condition – despite the medical documentation they had previously received.
In another instance from the Division’s complaint, the agency alleges that a worker who requested a reduction of work hours due to disability was denied an accommodation, despite initial approval by an Accommodations Consultant. The Amazon worksite manager refused to change the worker’s schedule even after several weeks of correspondence with the Accommodations Consultant. Eventually, Amazon determined that the request was not supported by sufficient medical documentation. Rather than continuing a dialogue with the worker to obtain appropriate medical documentation as New York State law requires, Amazon denied the request and closed the matter.
The Division’s complaint seeks a decision requiring Amazon to cease its discriminatory conduct, adopt non-discriminatory policies and practices regarding the review of requests for reasonable accommodations, train its employees on the provisions of the Human Rights Law, and pay civil fines and penalties to the State of New York.
The Division of Human Rights is empowered by law to investigate and prosecute systematic patterns of discrimination through their Division Initiated Action Unit. This Unit can, upon its own motion, initiate investigations and file complaints alleging violations of the state anti-discrimination law. Once filed, a separate unit within the Division investigates the complaint and issues findings. Complaints that are found to have probable cause are then set for an administrative hearing before the Division’s Hearings Unit. Although the complaint is a private document, the Division’s final determination on the complaint will be available to the public. For more information on the Division of Human Rights’ process visit www.dhr.ny.gov.