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Amazon is sued over warehouses after New York worker brings coronavirus home, cousin dies

Jonathan Stempel
FILE PHOTO: Amazon.com trucks are seen at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island in New York City

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc <AMZN.O> has been sued for allegedly fostering the spread of the coronavirus by mandating unsafe working conditions, causing at least one employee to contract COVID-19, bring it home, and see her cousin die.

The complaint was filed on Wednesday in the federal court in Brooklyn, New York, by three employees of the JFK8 fulfillment center in Staten Island, and by family members.

One employee, Barbara Chandler, said she tested positive for COVID-19 in March and later saw several household members become sick, including a cousin who died on April 7.

The lawsuit said Amazon has made JFK8, which employs about 5,000, a "place of danger" by impeding efforts to stop the coronavirus spreading, boosting productivity at the expense of safety.

It said Amazon forces employees to work at "dizzying speeds, even if doing so prevents them from socially distancing, washing their hands, and sanitizing their work spaces."

Amazon did not comment on the lawsuit, but said it has always followed guidance from health authorities and its workplace safety experts since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The Seattle-based company has benefited as the pandemic forced many consumers unable to visit physical stores to shop online more.

Unions, elected officials and some employees have faulted Amazon's treatment of workers, including the firing of some critical of warehouse conditions.

Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said last week that Amazon has not fired people for such criticism.

Amazon is spending more than $800 million on coronavirus safety in this year's first half, including cleaning, temperature checks and face masks.

At least 800 workers in U.S. distribution centers have tested positive for COVID-19, according to an employee's unofficial tally.

Amazon ended 2019 with 798,000 full- and part-time employees.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring that Amazon comply with worker safety and public nuisance laws, and not punish employees who develop COVID-19 symptoms or are quarantined.

The case is Palmer et al v Amazon.com Inc., U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, No. 20-02468.


(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Editing by Tom Brown and Grant McCool)