April 6: Amazon.com Inc. general counsel David Zapolsky’s leaked comments against a warehouse employee who was fired could prompt a case for unlawful termination and retaliation and also a potential claim for race discrimination.
The tech giant’s firing of US warehouse employee and protest organiser Chris Smalls had already sparked controversy. But the situation exploded when reports surfaced, based on leaked notes from an internal meeting, that Zapolsky had bad-mouthed Smalls while cooking up a plan to bolster Amazon’s public relations situation.
Amazon has stated that Smalls was fired because he violated the company’s 14-day quarantine policy by returning to work after coming into contact with a co-worker who tested positive for COVID-19.
Smalls has asserted in a written statement that Amazon had not quarantined other employees when he was on the job and believes that he was targeted for speaking out about unsafe working conditions during the novel coronavirus outbreak.
“He’s not smart, or articulate, and to the extent the press wants to focus on us versus him, we will be in a much stronger PR position than simply explaining for the umpteenth time how we’re trying to protect workers,” Zapolsky reportedly stated, law.com reported.
He added, “We should spend the first part of our response strongly laying out the case for why the organiser’s conduct was immoral, unacceptable, and arguably illegal, in detail, and only then follow with our usual talking points about worker safety. Make him the most interesting part of the story, and if possible make him the face of the entire union/organising movement.”
Zapolsky’s comments could prompt a case for unlawful termination and retaliation and also a potential claim for race discrimination, according to employment lawyer Carolyn Wheeler, senior counsel at Katz, Marshall & Banks in Washington, D.C.
“Well, they really stepped in it,” Wheeler said Monday in an interview. “They just handled it 100% the wrong way by firing him.”