Legal Roundup: Amazon’s Workers Claim ‘Poor’ COVID Response, USA Swimming Faces Sexual Abuse Case and More

The latest court decisions involving risk management and the insurance industry.
By: | June 15, 2020

Amazon Warehouse Workers Sue Over COVID-19 Safety

The Case: A group of Amazon warehouse workers in New York sued the company for allegedly failing to adequately keep their workplace safe during the pandemic.

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The lawsuit, according to CNBC, states: “Amazon purports to take responsibility for ‘contact tracing,’ even while declining to take the most basic steps in tracking worker contacts and in some cases purposefully concealing information about who has contracted the virus from the coworkers.”

Amazon has used surveillance cameras to conduct the contact tracing, but workers said this method doesn’t paint a full picture of interactions.

Amazon said it has followed guidelines from leading health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization.

Scorecard: The case has just recently been filed and has not yet come to a resolution.

The employees are seeking financial damages and an injunction requiring Amazon to follow health standards.

Takeaway: It’s not the first time Amazon has been accused of a poor COVID-19 response.

CNBC reports “warehouse workers, politicians and state attorneys general” have argued the retail giant “moved too slowly in its efforts to provide personal protective equipment, temperature checks and other tools to keep employees safe. The company and its CEO Jeff Bezos have pushed back on these accusations, saying Amazon has gone to ‘great lengths’ to protect workers from the coronavirus.”

City Sues Over ‘Foul,’ ‘Unwholesome’ Stench

The Case: West Valley City, Utah has sued waste-processing site E.T. Technologies over a foul smell that has angered residents.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports: “In West Valley City, there’s an ‘intolerable odor of human feces mixed with industrial waste’ that’s so strong it has led some residents to limit their time outside and has hindered efforts to bring economic development to the area.”

E.T. Technologies did not respond to a comment request by the newspaper.

Scorecard: The case has just recently been filed and has not yet come to a resolution.

The city is seeking “at least $300,000 in damages and a court order that the company must abate the ‘impure,’ ‘foul’ and ‘unwholesome’ smell,” according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Takeaway: Public nuisance claims are bound to get lots of attention.

Athletes Sue USA Swimming Over Sexual Abuse

The Case: Six athletes have sued USA Swimming, “saying they were sexually abused by coaches in the 1980s, and the organization failed to protect them or take action against the men they say groomed and assaulted them as minors,” according to the Washington Post.

A USA Swimming statement said: “We fully support survivors of sexual abuse along their healing journey” and the the organization has taken steps to provide funding and services for those in need.

Scorecard: The cases have just recently been filed and have not yet come to a resolution. Many of the cases had been made public before and some of the accused are already serving prison time.

The lawsuits are a result of California’s three-year window for sexual abuse victims to make legal claims even if the statute of limitations had previously expired.

Takeaway: This case comes on the heels of a settlement between USA Swimming and Ariana Kukors Smith, who swam in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. She claimed abuse by her coach Sean Hutchison but said the case was quickly closed by the organization. USA Swimming and Smith settled the case for an undisclosed amount.

It also conjures up memories of the harrowing tale of USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nasser who abused more than 100 athletes in his care and is now serving life in prison.

EMS Workers Sue NYC Claiming Punishment for Media Interviews 

The Case: Four New York City EMS workers have sued the city claiming that they were unjustly punished after giving media interviews about their time fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Associated Press reports: “The plaintiffs include paramedic Elizabeth Bonilla, who said she was barred from patient care, overtime work and even wearing her uniform after the Associated Press followed her through the first half of a grueling 16-hour double shift in April. Two other paramedics said they were placed on restricted duty after talking to the media.”

The EMS workers claim they had a duty to speak out about the pandemic and the city’s response.
Scorecard: The case has just recently been filed and has not yet come to a resolution.

The AP reports: “The lawsuit seeks damages including lost wages and an injunction to prevent the fire department from punishing workers who speak out in the future.”

Takeaway: Media availability is tricky for companies public or private. Workers may want to speak their minds but companies may be hesitant, especially if workers haven’t been media trained. &

Jared Shelly is a journalist based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]