New York State Accuses Amazon of Pregnancy and Disability Discrimination

By Douglas Lipsky

The New York State Division of Human Rights filed a complaint against Amazon in May, alleging the tech giant discriminates against pregnant and disabled workers at its facilities. The company operates 23 worksites in the state. The complaint accuses Amazon of violating the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) by denying reasonable accommodations to workers who are pregnant or have disabilities.

The Backdrop

The complaint alleges that Amazon’s accommodation policy forces pregnant and disabled workers to take unpaid leave rather than providing reasonable accommodations as required by the NYSHRL. The law also empowers the state to investigate and prosecute companies that fail to comply with the law’s requirements.

The state cites several cases in which the company allegedly failed to accommodate these workers, even when in-house accommodations consultants identified reasonable accommodations that would allow workers to perform their essential job functions without causing undue burden to Amazon.

One case involved a pregnant worker who was approved to avoid lifting packages weighing over 25 pounds. A manager refused to follow the accommodation, and the worker was injured. The complaint alleges that Amazon denied additional accommodations and placed her on indefinite leave. 

According to the complaint, Amazon fails to provide accommodation because managers can override recommendations made by consultants responsible for evaluating and recommending accommodation. The division is seeking a ruling requiring Amazon to:

  • Cease its discriminatory conduct
  • Adopt non-discriminatory policies and practices concerning requests for accommodations
  • Train its employees on the provisions of the NYSHRL
  • Pay civil fines and penalties to the State of New York

Notably, Amazon’s alleged mistreatment of pregnant workers may be a pattern. The company has previously faced lawsuits alleging that it failed to accommodate pregnant warehouse workers and subsequently fired them for not meeting performance standards. Finally, six U.S. senators wrote to the EEOC asking the agency to investigate Amazon’s mistreatment of pregnant workers at warehouses. 

Pregnancy Accommodations Under New York State Law

The NYSHRL requires employers with four or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers or who have a pregnancy-related condition. Reasonable accommodations under state law include:

  • Modification of the work
  • Reassignment to a more suitable position
  • Modified work schedule
  • More frequent rest breaks
  • Time off for medical visits
  • Time off to recover from childbirth

Pregnancy Accommodations Under New York City Law

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) provides pregnant workers with greater legal protections than state law when requesting accommodations. Under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which amended the NYCHRL, employers must accommodate the needs of an employee for her pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition, regardless of whether the employee’s condition qualifies as a disability.

The Takeaway

Whether the state will prevail in its pregnancy and disability discrimination claim against Amazon remains to be seen. If your request for a pregnancy accommodation has been denied while working at Amazon or another employer, talk to an experienced New York pregnancy discrimination lawyer.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.