BLACK AND LATINO DRIVERS FILE CLASS ACTION DISCRIMINATION COMPLAINTS
Complaints Allege Amazon Illegally Fired Drivers Based On Overly Stringent Background Checks
A group of eight Black and Latino former Amazon drivers filed class action complaints today with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), charging that Amazon illegally discriminated against them and other similarly-situated drivers when it fired them last year. The complaints allege that Amazon’s mass termination of predominantly minority drivers was based on an overly stringent background check policy that included old and minor offenses, and came months after the drivers were on the job and performing successfully.
“Our clients are all hard-working individuals who were doing a great job delivering packages for Amazon,” said Oren M. Sellstrom, Litigation Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, one of the attorneys representing the drivers. “Amazon’s decision to fire them had nothing to do with their ability to perform the job, but was based solely on an overly strict background check policy. That is not only poor business practice, it also violates federal and state anti-discrimination laws.”
Steve Churchill, an attorney with Fair Work, P.C. and another of the drivers’ counsel, noted that employers’ use of background checks often disproportionately affects Black and Latino workers, due to over-policing and over-incarceration of communities of color. “If an employer’s policy has a disparate impact on workers of color and is not job-related, then that constitutes illegal discrimination,” he said. Mr. Churchill noted that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidance to employers outlining this ground for liability and cautioning against restrictive background check policies.
The terminated drivers bringing the complaint against Amazon include:
- A Latino driver, who was successfully delivering packages for Amazon 60-70 hours/week when he was terminated. He had no performance issues, and in fact had been entrusted to train new drivers. However, one evening his manager called him and told him that “Amazon is tightening requirements” and ordered his termination. The apparent basis for his termination was an old incident of driving on a suspended license, even though his license had been reinstated for more than four years prior to his termination.
- A Black driver, who was successfully delivering packages for Amazon for 10-12 hours/day on weekends to make extra money to support his family. His last contact with the criminal justice system was 2009; since then, he has been employed full-time on weekdays as a mentor for at-risk youth. In August 2016, he suddenly got a call from his Amazon delivery dispatcher, telling him that Amazon had ordered him “deactivated.” He was given no explanation for why, but later heard that dozens of drivers of color at his warehouse had been let go by Amazon due to background checks. He is still at his job as a youth mentor, where his duties include driving his mentees to appointments.
- A Black driver, who was successfully delivering for Amazon approximately 45-50 hours/week. In August 2016, he was called in by his dispatcher after his shift and told “there’s a list” of drivers who have to be terminated, and that he was on the list. He later went back twice to the Amazon warehouse to try to find someone who would give him an explanation for his firing, but got no response. Raymond’s only contact with the criminal justice system within the last decade has been for minor incidents, such as marijuana possession.
David Milton, from the Law Offices of Howard Friedman, P.C., another of the attorneys representing the fired drivers, noted that Amazon made no individual assessment for any of the drivers they fired: “Amazon just treated the drivers like widgets that could be ‘de-activated’ at will. That is no way to treat employees. It’s also illegal, and by filing today’s complaints we are seeking justice for these drivers and others like them.”
The drivers’ complaints are filed “on a class basis” and allege that “numerous individuals in Massachusetts and across the country have been and continue to be adversely affected” by Amazon’s background check policies. The complaints state that “the public interest is plainly served by a class proceeding based…on the importance of eliminating discriminatory policies that disproportionately impact disadvantaged communities.” Complaints filed at MCAD may be removed to court after 90 days.