Amazon.com Inc. allegedly retaliated against three female employees — including firing one and placing another on a performance plan — after they sued the company for discrimination, the plaintiffs said in new court papers.
In an amended complaint filed Friday, Caroline Wilmuth, Katherine Schomer and Erin Combs alleged Amazon has “continued to discriminate and retaliate against” them since the original lawsuit was filed in November. Wilmuth has been terminated, Schomer was put on a performance plan, and Combs has resigned. They all belonged to the company’s communications and public relations group and focused on research and corporate reputation issues.
“All three of us started raising these concerns — really thinking that this was a solvable problem, both on the pay front and the treatment front,” Combs said in an interview. “I don’t think that any of us really expected it to take this turn. We really went in thinking we can find a resolution here, but Amazon just clearly hasn’t been willing.”
The company, which has asked the court to throw out some of the plaintiffs’ claims, has said the allegations in the original lawsuit are false. An Amazon spokesperson didn’t immediately comment on the new filing.
Wilmuth, Schomer and Combs originally sued Amazon in Seattle federal court, alleging that the company pays women less than men for the same or comparable work and that female employees face systemic, gender-based discrimination when seeking promotions.
Their lawsuit seeks to represent women who worked in several tiers of Amazon’s hierarchy — from entry-level corporate roles to senior managers — for the three years before the filing. Amazon has said individuals included in such a class would have little in common and would likely comprise more than 100,000 people.
The three plaintiffs all say Amazon’s actions affected their mental and physical health, prompting them to take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
On Jan. 10, during Wilmuth’s medical leave, she was asked to meet with a superior and human resources official, who told her Amazon was terminating her employment “due to role elimination,” according to the new complaint.
“Amazon fired Ms. Wilmuth in retaliation for her many complaints of discrimination and retaliation, including by filing this lawsuit a month prior, and for taking FMLA and short-term disability leave,” the plaintiffs allege.
After returning from her own medical leave, Combs was demoted to a role “below her level” and outside her skill set, prompting her to resign on Dec. 2, according to the complaint. Combs left “as a direct result of Amazon’s retaliatory demotion” and “limited assignment of projects that had no funding or future viability,” the complaint said.
Schomer still works for Amazon but is currently in a program designed for underperformers, the complaint said. In November, shortly after the original lawsuit was filed, Schomer was placed in Focus, a precursor to Amazon’s formal improvement plan, which kept her from transferring to another team or role. In February, she was placed in Pivot, Amazon’s performance improvement plan.
“The scrutiny has been intense,” Schomer said, describing her current work environment. “I feel like I’m experiencing retaliation 101.”
The case is Wilmuth v. Amazon.com, Inc., W.D. Wash., No. 2:23-cv-01774.
Photo: An employee checks packages at an Amazon.com Inc. fulfilment center. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg
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