A senior-level manager at Amazon is suing the tech giant and two executives over alleged race and gender discrimination, as well as pay inequity.
Charlotte Newman, a senior manager in the Amazon Web Services division, filed the lawsuit Monday in district court in Washington, D.C. Her suit also alleges that a former Amazon executive sexually harassed and assaulted her.
Newman, who is Black, claims the discrimination began shortly after she was hired at Amazon in Jan. 2017 for a public policy manager position in Washington, which was a level lower than the job she initially applied for despite being more than qualified, her attorney Douglas Wigdor, told USA TODAY on Monday.
Wigdor said Newman accepted the “Level 6” Amazon job because she was told that her responsibilities would only require her to do U.S.-related domestic policy work. However, within months Newman was doing “Level 7” international-based work outside of the U.S. – which included Canada and Latin America.
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The lawyer argues that the “de-leveling” has cost his client thousands in pay. He claims that Newman has lost money because stock options account for a significant portion of Amazon pay packages as the company has seen its stock price soar over the years, especially during the pandemic.
“She should’ve been compensated at a Level 7. That has happened throughout her career at Amazon,” said Wigdor about his client. “The underpayment is definitely within hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not in the seven figures.”
Amazon did not immediately reply to a request for comment regarding the lawsuit.
Backdrop of discrimination claims
Newman’s lawsuit comes after published reports of numerous Black Amazon employees accusing the company of longstanding racism and discrimination. Before joining Amazon, Newman, a Harvard Business School graduate, worked for three years as a top adviser for Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and three other members of Congress who served on the House Financial Services Committee, the lawsuit and her LinkedIn profile state.
According to the suit, Newman was also paid significantly less than her white co-workers while doing similar work. Newman was finally promoted to a Level 7 position more than two and a half years after doing the work since her arrival, Wigdor said.
Newman also accuses former AWS director Andres Maz of sexual harassment and assault for groping her “upper thigh” under a table during a work dinner, and yanking her braided hair when she tried to leave a bar during another work-related event.
The suit also accuses AWS director Steve Block, her first boss, of discrimination, including that she was “too direct” and “aggressive” in her communication style. The lawsuit said Maz was fired after Amazon conducted an internal investigation and required Block to take training. Maz couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Newman decided to speak up about her experiences after she began working from home due to the pandemic, and the fatal police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor which led to a global racial reckoning, Wignot said.
When asked why wouldn’t Newman take a financial settlement or just find a new job, Wigdor said she has refused settling with Amazon because that would likely include a confidentiality clause that would prohibit talking about her experience.
Wigdor, a noted entertainment lawyer who has represented six of the women who accused beleaguered Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual abuse, said Newman has had some concerns about “retaliation for coming forward.”
The lawyer added that Newman has no intentions of leaving Amazon because she wants to see the company make major changes with its hiring and diversity initiatives.
“Ms. Newman wants to change from within and that’s why she’s still there,” Wigdor told USA TODAY. “She is going to try to create change that’s why she wants to make this publicly known. She’s hoping that Amazon will make the changes needed as one of the largest companies in the world.”