Seizing on the recent New York Times investigation into Amazon’s sometimes-bruising work culture, the American Civil Liberties Union took out a full-page ad in Friday’s Seattle Times soliciting employees who think they’ve been illegally singled out.
The ACLU ad specifically encourages Amazon employees “who believe they were unlawfully penalized because of their decision to have children, or because they were caring for a sick relative or recovering from an illness of their own.” The New York Times article cited instances of workers who felt their career paths stalled as they attended to family matters.
“If there’s smoke, maybe there’s fire,” ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said in an interview.
That’s why the group paid $20,000 for the ad, and another $10,000 for online advertising on tech-news websites.
“Amazon plays an outsized role in the American economy and the American workplace,” Romero said.
Amazon declined to comment on the ACLU ad. Instead, a company spokesman pointed to an email that Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos sent to employees last Sunday responding to The New York Times article. In that email, Bezos said he didn’t recognize the “soulless, dystopian workplace” depicted in the article, and encouraged employees to report unfair treatment to human resources or directly to him.
The ACLU ad called Bezos’s email “a welcome first step” but “not enough.” Workers singled out in the ways described in the article might be able to make claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and a variety of federal and state laws regarding treatment of workers dealing with family issues.
The ACLU noted that raising children and caring for sick relatives falls disproportionately on women. The ad pointed out that Amazon’s senior leadership team is exclusively male. And in a recent federal filing, Amazon disclosed that the vast majority of its technical and professional staff is men.
Romero said that the group had already received responses to its ad by Friday afternoon. But he anticipates that stepping forward to make claims against their employer will take “a bit of consideration” for other employees.