A Black female Amazon Web Services senior manager on Monday filed a lawsuit against the trillion-dollar company and two of its executives on allegations of race and gender discrimination. Besides an additional allegation of the company flouting the Equality Pay Act, the plaintiff, in the lawsuit, also claims she was sexually harassed and assaulted by a former Amazon executive, Recode reported.
Prior to joining Amazon in 2017, the plaintiff, Charlotte Newman, previously worked for Sen. Cory Booker as his economic policy adviser. In an interview with Recode, the Harvard Business School graduate revealed the discrimination started when she was first offered a much lower role within the organizational ranks despite applying for a higher opening that she said befitted her qualifications.
After joining the company, Newman said the discrimination persisted as she was unable to rise up the organizational ranks for over a year despite performing some tasks that were above her level and also demanding a promotion from her manager. She also alleged some of her White colleagues who were on the same level as she was were promoted ahead of her despite having less working experience and not having graduate degrees. The lawsuit alleges that the period of stagnation cost her millions.
Though she was eventually promoted to a senior level in 2019, Newman claimed her first boss spoke to her in a language she believed was racially stereotypical when he addressed her about her mode of communication – using descriptions like it was “too direct”, “just scary”, and saying she “can intimidate people.”
Aside from that, Newman alleged a senior colleague by the name Andres Maz sexually harassed her on numerous occasions, claiming he went as far as seemingly proposing they have sex. Newman also recalled other separate incidents where Maz groped her by her thigh and yanked her by her hair when she was leaving a company hangout. She also said she was initially reluctant to report Maz’s alleged unprofessional advances as he was responsible for providing updates on her performance to another manager, thus making her fear there was going to be some form of retaliation from her superiors if she did so.
“There’s been deep emotional pain,” she 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.”
Newman said she ultimately decided to file an official complaint against Maz and also open up on the discrimination she faced as an employee of the organization after she was spurred by the protests that happened in the country following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. She said she filed the complaint in June last year, adding that she was also working from home during that period. Though Maz was eventually fired after investigations, she said she had to endure participating in virtual meetings involving him for several months while company authorities were looking into her complaints.
“At the very least, Amazon could have better safeguards in place to protect employees,” she told Recode. “A company of Amazon’s size should have clear guidelines about what happens if you report, hear what your rights are … [and] ensure that once you report you don’t have to be contacted by the person who harassed you.”
Fearing retaliation from her managers, Newman said she moved to a different department last year. Newman’s lawsuit comes after an expose from the news outlet that revealed bias and discriminatory complaints from Black Amazon employees.
“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 color,” she said. “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.”
Newman said she has told representatives from the company she would only remain with the establishment for a longer period if they introduce policies that would revamp their hiring and diversity programs. She also wants a company hiring practice known as “down-leveling” to be either scrapped or reviewed.
“Amazon works hard to foster a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture, and these allegations do not reflect those efforts or our values,” the company said in response to the lawsuit. “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.”