A judge has ruled that Amazon must reinstate a former warehouse worker who was fired in the early days of the pandemicsaying the company “illegally” fired the worker who led a protest calling on Amazon to do more to protect employees from COVID-19.
The dispute involving Gerald Bryson, who worked at an Amazon warehouse in the New York City borough of Staten Island, has dragged on since June 2020, when Bryson filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Board of Labor Relations, claiming that Amazon retaliated against him.
Later that year, the NLRB said it found merit in Bryson’s claim that Amazon illegally fired him for organizing in the workplace. Amazon did not accept the findings, and the federal board filed a formal complaint against the company, triggering a lengthy administrative court proceeding.
On Monday, Administrative Law Judge Benjamin Green said Amazon must offer Bryson his job, as well as lost wages and benefits as a result of his “discriminatory termination.” Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said in a statement that the company will appeal the ruling.
“We strongly disagree with this ruling and are surprised that the NLRB would want any employer to condone Mr. Bryson’s behavior,” Nantel said. “Mr. Bryson was fired for bullying, cursing and defaming a female co-worker with a megaphone in front of the workplace. We do not tolerate such conduct in our workplace and we intend to file an appeal with the NLRB.” .
Bryson first participated in a March 2020 protest over working conditions led by Chris Smalls, another warehouse worker who was fired by the online retail giant and heads the Amazon Labor Union, the nascent group that won a union election earlier this month at the Amazon facility where they both worked.
After Smalls was fired, Bryson led another protest in April 2020 outside the warehouse. While off work during the protest, Bryson got into a dispute with another worker. He was later fired for violating Amazon’s profanity policy.
Court documents account for the altercation between Bryson and an employee. A recording of their dispute detailed by the NLRB showed that both Bryson and the woman used profanity during a heated exchange that lasted several minutes. The agency’s account shows that the woman began the exchange and twice tried to provoke Bryson into a physical altercation with her, in which he did not participate. The woman received a “first warning”.
The woman also told Bryson, who is black, to “go back to the Bronx,” which the judge said Bryson could interpret as “racial” since “since he is African-American and could question why, other than his race, someone would.” Let’s assume he’s from the Bronx.”
Bryson testified that he told an Amazon manager who spoke with him about the incident about that comment. The manager has denied that Bryson made any reference to a racial comment. But the judge sided with Bryson’s account, saying it was unlikely he “would not broadcast such a prominent comment to which he had a strong reaction.”
The judge said in his decision that Amazon rushed to judgment and conducted a “biased investigation” into the argument designed to blame only Bryson for that incident, adding that the company wanted to fire Bryson for his “protected concerted activity in rather than fairly assessing” what happened.
In his investigation into the altercation, Greene said Amazon “preferred not to get information from someone who was protesting with Bryson, even though that person was probably in the best position to explain what happened.”
Instead, he said the company’s multiple witness accounts of the incident were coincidentally “one-sided,” adding that he found it implausible that the statements would be made “unless such accounts were requested.”
The NLRB had also pushed for Bryson’s reinstatement in a federal lawsuit filed last month, using a provision of the National Labor Relations Act that allows him to seek temporary relief in federal court while a case moves through the administrative law process. . Amazon has used the case as one of its objections to the Staten Island election results, accusing the agency of tainting the vote by seeking Bryson’s reinstatement in the run-up to the election.