Amazon is all about the money. They fully admit to firing people based on a computer algorithm. They also are a huge company, with over 600,000 employees. With that many employees, you'll end up with a lot of pregnant women--each woman has a manager. All it takes for a lawsuit is for an employee to feel that they were treated unfairly and for a lawyer to be willing to take the case.
While some employment lawsuits result in huge payouts, most don't. But Amazon also has deep pockets, and where there's one employee complaint, you're likely to find others (just given the sheer volume of employees), so they can be a good target.
All of this is simply background, which doesn't answer the question: did Amazon illegally fire these seven pregnant women?
CNET looked at the lawsuits filed by these warehouse workers and the claims are pretty standard pregnancy discrimination lawsuit. There's no overt claim of "I'm firing you because you're pregnant!" This is, of course, rarely how a termination happens. Instead, the complaints include:
- Failure to provide longer bathroom breaks
- Failure to provide more flexible/shorter schedules
- Failure to provide light duty (not being able to lift more than 20 pounds)
- Ignoring requests from their doctors
Is Amazon at Fault?
On their face, none of these exceptions are explicitly required by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which protects pregnant women. Here's what the law requires:
Women affected by pregnancy or related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.
In other words, if you allow someone with a back injury to have a light duty position, you have to offer the same to a pregnant woman whose doctor requires it. (You can't just say, "hey, I'm pregnant, give me accommodations!") OSHA requires all employees to have access to adequate bathroom accommodations, not just pregnant women.
Remember, when looking at lawsuits, we generally only get the "facts" as described by the people filing the lawsuit. Some of these seven lawsuits settled out of court, which doesn't mean that Amazon admitted fault. Some things can be explained by known Amazon policies and practices. For instance, pregnancy doesn't protect you from productivity requirements.
Can You Fire a Pregnant Woman?
You can fire anyone. There is no protected class status which prohibits termination. What you can't do is fire someone because she is pregnant. This is the same as you can't fire someone because she's black, white, Christian or Muslim. But you can fire someone who is one of those things.
Frankly, seven lawsuits over many years are small for a company the size of Amazon. It can be difficult to keep all managers trained on how to treat their employees, but every termination should be approved by an HR person who is well trained on pregnancy discrimination and other laws. But, overall, this isn't a shocking look at life in a big company.
That said, it's clear that Amazon isn't the company to work for if you're looking for a great work-life balance, but they do pay better than a lot of their competitors. It's a trade-off. Amazon would be wise to be a bit more compassionate with their employees. Yes, they are on the top of the world right now, but competition is real, and in a strong economy, your employees have options.