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Amazon sued over discrimination, sexual harassment claims

SEATTLE >> A senior manager at Amazon.com Inc. has sued the commerce giant, claiming she was paid less than similar qualified white peers and that executives used racial stereotypes to justify denying her promotion opportunities.

The federal lawsuit was filed Monday by Charlotte Newman, a Black woman who works in Washington, D.C., for Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud-computing division, The Seattle Times reported.

“Like so many other Black and female employees at Amazon, Charlotte Newman was confronted with a systemic pattern of insurmountable discrimination based upon the color of her skin and her gender,” her lawyer Douglas Wigdor said. Wigdor is known for representing victims of alleged sexual abuse by former movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

Newman filed the lawsuit after an investigation by the online tech outlet Recode was published last week detailing allegations by Black employees that Amazon routinely passed them over for promotion.

“Amazon works hard to foster a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture, and these allegations do not reflect those efforts or our values. We do not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind and thoroughly investigate all claims and take appropriate action,” the company said.

Amazon does not publish employee demographic data, but it does make available overview data showing relatively proportional racial representation among all U.S. managers. Amazon did not respond to a request for a breakdown showing what proportion of corporate employees and managers are people of color.

During protests over racial injustice, Amazon last year pledged to “stand in solidarity with the Black community — our employees, customers, and partners — in the fight against systemic racism and injustice.”

However, Amazon workers said in posts on their internal website and on social media the statement was at odds with its partnerships with law-enforcement agencies, its predominately white leadership team and the higher-than-industry-average injury rates at its warehouses, where a quarter of workers are people of color.

Amazon has since added its first Black executive, Alicia Boler Davis, to its top leadership team.

It also enacted a one-year moratorium on the use of its facial-recognition software by police departments, which was found to disproportionately misidentify Black people.

Newman said in her complaint that Amazon has not done enough to dispel “racially and sexually discriminatory attitudes” of the kind that she experienced in her nearly four years at the company.

Newman said in 2017 she applied to join the company’s public policy team and believed the role included higher pay and more responsibility than the job she eventually was offered.

Newman later said she began taking on duties commensurate with a much higher salary level, but she was never adequately compensated for that work. She also said she worked above her pay grade for more than two years before she was promoted, while white men with similar experience climbed the corporate ladder more quickly.

Newman also said in the complaint that her interactions with supervisors and other more senior Amazon executives showed signs of bias against her race and gender, after being called “too direct,” “aggressive,” and “just scary.”

Amazon is “currently investigating the new allegations included in this lawsuit,” the company said in a statement.

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