Workers for one of Amazon’s Minnesota warehouses filed a federal complaint on Wednesday that alleged workplace religious discrimination as well as retaliation for rallying around a protest effort at the facility late last year.
The three Muslim Somali women working for Amazon at the Shakopee, Minnesota facility allege that they feared taking time away from work to pray and faced being issued “write-ups” (disciplinary citations) that could potentially lead to their termination, according to a letter that was included in the complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. One woman was described as so afraid of retaliation that she “stopped taking breaks to perform ablutions before prayer, [broke] her Ramadan fast, and even stopped going to the bathroom.”
The complaint further alleges that Amazon failed to promote Muslim Somali and East African workers, instead promoting white workers as well as giving them better assignments. When the three women joined the effort for rallying around a Dec. 14 protest at the warehouse, including by encouraging other works to get involved and speaking out against the company’s labour conditions, they allegedly began receiving retaliatory treatment from the company’s management.
Muslim Advocates, the nonprofit workers’ rights group representing the women, did not identify any of the three women in the letter order to avoid further retaliation, according to the New York Times.
“Ms. B and Ms. C have repeatedly received more difficult and less favourable duty assignments since the protest. In an intimidation tactic, Ms. B has had her everyday conversations repeatedly video recorded by her supervisors. All three of our clients have received pretextual write-ups, which are a step towards terminations,” the letter states.
“When our clients attempted to report the improper write-ups to management or to Human Resources, Amazon has uniformly failed to adequately investigate or address their claims. And in retaliation for reporting the initial retaliation, Ms. C even received an additional retaliatory writeup the day she was told that the investigation into her claims had yielded no results.”
In an emailed statement to Gizmodo, a spokesperson for the company declined to specifically address this week’s complaint, claiming that it “respect[s] the privacy of employees and don’t discuss complaints publicly.” They did, however, defend Amazon’s workplace conditions.
“Diversity and inclusion is central to our business and company culture, and associates can pray whenever they choose,” the spokesperson said.
“Prayer breaks less than 20 minutes are paid, and associates are welcome to request an unpaid prayer break for over 20 minutes for which productivity expectations would be adjusted. We encourage anyone to compare Amazon’s pay, benefits, and workplace to other retailers, and to come take a tour and see firsthand.”
The spokesperson said that the company has taken steps in preparation for Ramadan this year, including meeting with Muslim workers, holding inclusion and diversity training sessions, supplying prayer rugs, and offering additional unpaid breaks and shift options, among other initiatives.
Still, the initiatives do not address serious claims about workplace discrimination that disproportionately favours white workers. One of the women involved with the complaint alleged that as white workers were offered opportunities to grow within the company, “these opportunities were regularly denied to black Muslim workers of Somali origin, including myself. Instead, Amazon preferred and continues to prefer to confine Somalis to packing, and especially to packing heavier items.”
The statement also does not address claims that the women were punished for their efforts in organising around last year’s protest. Another of the women claimed that after the protest, she “began to be treated differently, including receiving write-ups for low rates—even though, in the past, I had occasionally posted lower rates but had not received write-ups for them.”