Pregnancy Firing at Amazon, Woman Says

     PHILADELPHIA (CN) – In a blow to its damage control since a critical New York Times report, Amazon faces a federal complaint from a woman who says getting pregnant got her fired.
     Cathleen Stewart claims that she was working at a Breinigsville, Pa., warehouse run by Amazon in February 2011 when she informed her supervisor that nausea from her pregnancy had been making her vomit during the work day.
     Later that month Amazon issued Stewart a verbal warning for returning late from a break after nausea sent her to the bathroom, according to the complaint Stewart filed Friday.
     Warnings continued throughout March as Stewart found it increasingly to fill 125 tote bags with 23 pounds of merchandise every day, as required by her employer, the complaint states.
     Stewart says she was fired for low productivity on April 6.
     The lawsuit comes at a pivotal time for Amazon, which has both proven that it can turn a profit after years of losses and has sustained heightened scrutiny over allegations of intensely Tayloristic workforce management.
     Named for the father of scientific management, Philadelphia’s own Frederick Taylor is credited with improving factory efficiency at the turn of the 20th century.
     In August, The New York Times reported that employees at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters faced Battle Royale-like conditions in which employees are frequently left in tears and with ulcers while encouraged to aggressively scrutinize one another’s productivity.
     The article describes one woman whom Amazon chastised for low productivity after undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer.
     “It’s not easy to work here,” CEO Jeff Bezos wrote in a 1997 letter to shareholders, according to the report.
     In a memo to employees after the Times expose, Bezos wrote that the report did not sync with his perception of how the company manages its workers. “But if any of you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR,” he wrote, offering his personal email address to workers.
     Stewart’s complaint resembles reports that have come from Amazon’s warehouse employees for some time.
     In 2013, for instance, Gawker published a series of distressed emails by workers wrestling with seemingly unrealistic productivity demands and rigid scheduling that misaligned with the company’s ostensible work-life accommodations.
     Another employee compared the training process to prison. In 2011, the Allentown Morning Call reported that workers in the same Breinigsville warehouse that employed Stewart had passed out from overheating and were forced to work mandatory overtime.
     Stewart says her manager refused to honor her doctor’s suggestions that she not lift more than 20 pounds.
     When Amazon briefly reassigned Stewart to a position that accommodated her pregnancy, she says her supervisor remarked, “I’d like to go the bathroom a lot, too.”
     The reassignment lasted only a few days before Amazon directed Stewart to a division that she feared would violate her lifting restrictions, according to the complaint. Stewart’s firing occurred about a week after.     
     A spokesman for Amazon declined to comment on the allegations, citing the company’s longstanding policy of not addressing litigation.
     Amazon’s share price more than doubled this year as the company reported two consecutive quarters of profit, after years of investing money in its infrastructure and making bets on losing products like its Fire phone.
     It surpassed Walmart this year to become the world’s largest retailer.
     Stewart seeks damages for violations of Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act. She is represented by Harold Funt of Mosebach, Funt, Dayton & Duckworth in Lehigh Valley.

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