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Couple sues Amazon over workplace discrimination

The multinational corporation with a reputation as a pro-LGBTQ employer nonetheless failed to protect these workers at its Hebron, KY warehouse.

Marilyn Drew Necci | August 15, 2017

Last Wednesday, Dane Lane and his wife Allegra Schawe-Lane filed suit against Amazon, alleging harassment and discrimination during their year-long tenure at the company’s Hebron, KY warehouse. Lane, a cis man, and Schawe-Lane, a trans woman, claim that they were threatened and harassed by fellow employees while working at the Amazon warehouse, and that complaints to supervisors only led to retaliation, rather than any viable attempts to stop the abuse. Things went as far as the couple having the brake lines on their car cut while they were inside the warehouse working.

Amazon’s website makes specific mention of their company’s diversity and support for various minority groups through company-run affinity groups. One of the affinity groups mentioned on their site is Glamazon, an affinity group in charge of “identifying opportunities to educate and inform employees about LGBTQ issues and opportunities.” Regardless of the group’s unfortunate stereotypical name, it does get a lot done in the public eye, including sponsoring Pride parades around the globe. More crucially, the group claims to “promote diversity and visibility in recruiting and throughout Amazon.”

Elsewhere on Amazon’s diversity page, the group touts their participation in the 2016 White House LGBT Tech & Innovation Briefing, where three Amazon employees were selected to be included amongst the 180 total attendees. The company also specifically mentions its support of the transgender community in their fight to defeat Proposition I-1515 in Washington, a proposition that would have ended protections for transgender people against workplace discrimination. Meanwhile, in Kentucky, a couple that includes a transgender person found themselves with no recourse through their employer when they were allegedly harassed by coworkers and retaliated against when they complained to supervisors.

The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund is working with Kentucky lawyers to handle the case for Lane and Schawe-Lane. Speaking to ABC News, TLDEF executive director Jillian Weiss contrasted Amazon’s strong public reputation for supporting transgender rights with the issues Lane and Schawe-Lane had. “We have a company that touts its transgender friendliness,” she said. “Yet in Kentucky, when a transgender person comes and says, ‘Look, I’m being harassed,’ they get no help.”

Richmonders are unfortunately familiar with similar tales from our own local Amazon warehouses. A 2015 incident in which an openly gay man was assaulted while working at a Chesterfield County facility shocked the local community, even surprising the man who was attacked. “Never in my life have I experienced this kind of discrimination,” the man told GayRVA at the time. “This is a first.”

Unfortunately, here in Virginia, discrimination that takes less blatant forms than an all-out physical attack can go on without any legal recourse. In spite of Governor McAuliffe’s executive order earlier this year, protections for LGBTQ employees still only extend to those who work directly for the state of Virginia, or for employees of state-contracted businesses and customers of state services. And Amazon’s local workplaces are not necessarily all that safe for employees of any kind, if the 2013 death of Jeff Lockhart Jr. on the floor of the Amazon fulfillment warehouse in Chester is any indication.

Regardless of any issues Amazon employees have dealt with here in Virginia or elsewhere, news recently broke that a third Amazon facility would open in the area. A sorting facility will open in the Ashland area next month. The 300 new positions starting at $12.75/hr are never a bad thing for the community, but LGBTQ residents interested in applying might do well to keep their guard up. As we’ve seen above, the company’s corporate policies may not transfer to the local level.

Indeed, Allegra Schawe-Lane initially applied for a job at Amazon due to the company’s reputation for LGBTQ-friendly workplaces. “I thought we would be safe and accepted,” she told ABC News. “Instead it was like a bad dream.”