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Amazon manager sues company over racial discrimination and sexual harassment

A discrimination lawsuit by an Amazon senior manager unpacks a hard truth: Amazon’s public statements claim that the company affirms its commitment to racial equity, but evidently, actions portray otherwise. What’s really going on behind the world’s largest techy retailer’s doors?

Charlotte Newman, a senior manager for Amazon’s cloud-computing division called Amazon Web Services (AWS), filed a federal lawsuit on Monday 1 March, 2021, in Washington DC, alleging that the commerce giant was paying her less than similarly qualified, white peers. She also said that executives used racial stereotypes to justify denying her opportunities for promotion within the company’s ranks. That isn’t all, Newman also leveled allegations of sexual harassment and assault against a former Amazon director.

Douglas Wigdor, Newman’s lawyer who is also known for previously representing victims of alleged sexual abuse by Harvey Weinstein, wrote in the filed complaint that “Like so many other Black and female employees at Amazon, Charlotte Newman was confronted with a systemic pattern of insurmountable discrimination based upon the colour of her skin and her gender.”

The discrimination began, as reported by Recode in an interview with Newman, when she was first hired at a level lower for a public policy manager role than she initially applied for, which she believes her qualifications justified. She told interviewers that “the discrimination continued when she was denied a promotion for more than a year even though she was performing aspects of the more senior role and had begun pushing her manager to assign her to a higher level.”

In the autumn of 2019, Newman was elevated to a senior manager position, which was in fact more than two and a half years after being hired. She said that what actually made matters worse, was that her first boss, an AWS director named Steve Block, employed what she believed were racial stereotypes in telling her that her communication style was “too direct,” and “just scary,” and that she “can intimidate people.”

As reported by The Washington Post, Newman’s complaint states that a different and unnamed colleague told Newman she looked like “a gorilla” when she put on a black jacket. The colleague apologised after Newman noted how offensive the comment was, according to the suit.

Newman’s allegations also point towards a former AWS director named Andres Maz, who was a senior colleague and reportedly sexually harassed her on multiple occasions including propositioning her for sex. The complaint accuses Maz of pressing on her lap and groping her thigh under a table at a work dinner, among other assaulting occasions. A complaint filed by Newman was conducted internally in June of 2020, which resulted in a termination of his employment.

“There’s been deep emotional pain,” Newman told Recode, “All of the hard work, all of the sacrifices I made, my education—none of that saved me from someone who’s a predator and living in fear of what else he might do.”

Her discomfort was pushed further yet again, as she couldn’t report the awful behaviour to her managers for fear of retaliation. One manager being Shannon Kellogg, who allegedly relied on feedback from Maz on Newman’s performance.

An Amazon spokesperson, Kate Brinks, responded after the publication of this case with a statement saying “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. We are currently investigating the new allegations included in this lawsuit.”

Newman’s suit was filed after Recode published an investigation the week prior, which gave her the confidence to speak publicly herself. The report detailed allegations by other Amazon employees that black corporate workers were facing bias and an unlevel playing field to their non-black peers. Newman stated, “I strongly believe that Amazon should be harnessing the light of diverse leadership rather than dimming the light of Black employees and other employees of colour,” and continued, “For years I had been sort of suffering in silence, [but] I’m sure there are a lot of people who now feel more empowered to add their voices to the story, and hopefully there’s some real change that occurs.”