A judge has ruled that Amazon should reinstate a former warehouse worker who was fired early inclaiming 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 borough of Staten Island, has been going on since June 2020, when Bryson filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that Amazon had retaliated against him.
Later that year, the NLRB said it found merit in Bryson’s complaint that Amazon unlawfully fired him for workplace organizing. Amazon did not accept the findings, and the Federal Council filed a formal complaint against the company, triggering a lengthy administrative legal process.
On Monday, Administrative Law Judge Benjamin Green said Amazon should offer Bryson his job, along with lost wages and benefits resulting from his “discriminatory termination.” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement that the company would appeal the decision.
“We strongly disagree with this decision and are surprised that the NLRB wants any employer to condone Mr. Bryson’s behavior,” Nantel said. “Mr. Bryson was terminated for intimidating, insulting and defaming a co-worker over a megaphone outside the workplace. We do not condone this type of conduct in our workplace and have the intention to file an appeal with the NLRB.”
Bryson first took part in a protest against working conditions in March 2020 led by Chris Smalls, another warehouse worker who was fired by the online retail giant and leads the Amazon Labor Union , the nascent group thatat the Amazon factory where the two men worked.
After Smalls was fired, Bryson led another protest in April 2020 outside the warehouse. While not at work during the protest, Bryson got into an argument with another worker. He was later fired for violating Amazon’s vulgar language policy.
Court documents document the altercation between Bryson and an employee. A recording of their dispute detailed by the NLRB showed both Bryson and the woman using profanity during a heated exchange that lasted several minutes. The agency’s account shows the woman initiated the exchange and twice tried to provoke Bryson into a physical altercation with her, which he did not get into. 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 might interpret as “racial” because “since he’s African American and might wonder why, other than his race, someone would like to suppose he’s from the Bronx.”
Bryson testified that he informed an Amazon official who told him about the incident about the comment. The manager denied that Bryson made any reference to a racist comment. But the judge sided with Bryson’s account, saying it was unlikely he would ‘fail to convey such an important remark to which he had a strong reaction’.
The judge said in his ruling that Amazon rushed to judgment and conducted a “biased investigation” into the argument to blame Bryson solely for the incident, adding that the company wanted to fire Bryson for his “activity concerted action protected instead of fairly assessing” what had happened.
In its investigation into the altercation, Greene said Amazon “preferred not to get information from anyone who was protesting with Bryson, even though that person was probably in the best position to explain what happened.” .
Instead, he said several accounts of the incident submitted by the company were coincidentally ‘biased’, adding that he found it implausible that the statements were made ‘unless such accounts were asked of them’. .
The NLRB had also pushed for Bryson’s reinstatement in a federal lawsuit filed last month, using a provision in the state labor relations law that allows him to seek temporary relief in federal court while a case goes through the administrative law process. Amazon used the case as one of its objections to Staten Island’s election results, accusing the agency of tainting the vote by pursuing Bryson’s reinstatement ahead of the election.