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Judge: Race, age discrimination claims against Amazon may proceed

November 15, 2018

An age and race discrimination case against online shopping giant Amazon will proceed after a district judge in Indianapolis partially declined to dismiss claims brought by a former employee.

Pro se plaintiff Vicki Vernise Williford sued Amazon in the Southern Indiana District Court after she was fired from her job as a packer at an Amazon fulfillment center in November 2017. Williford had joined Amazon just two months earlier, but she claims that the week before she was fired, her supervisor, Whitney Trujillo, pushed her and yelled at her. Williford claims the incident occurred after she asked Trujillo a question about an assignment she had been given, and the harassment continued even after she reported the incident to human resources.

Williford also made a verbal complaint to manager Aaron Butcher about the continued harassment. The original incident occurred on Nov. 9, and Williford was fired Nov. 16.

In addition to filing a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Williford alleged race and age discrimination and retaliation in Vicki Vernise Williford v. Amazon Fulfillment, et al., 1:18-cv-01679. The complaint alleges violations of Williford’s rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and under the Age Discrimination Act. Specifically, Williford, who is black and 53 years old, claims she was harassed and fired because of her race and age.

Though Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson agreed to dismiss the claims against the individual defendants, she denied Amazon’s request to dismiss the discrimination claims in a Tuesday order. Though her complaint “is sparse in details that would connect the dots between her protected status and the adverse employment action that she identifies,” Magnus-Stinson said Williford’s claims were minimally sufficient to survive dismissal.

“The pleading standards in Title VII and ADEA ‘cases are different from the evidentiary burden a plaintiff must subsequently meet’ on summary judgment, and the details Amazon seeks are simply not required at the pleading stage,” the chief judge wrote. “… Ms. Williford has put Amazon on notice as to the nature of her claims, and she has alleged that her employer instituted an adverse employment action against her (termination), on the basis of her protected status (age and race). She has met the minimum required to state a claim at the pleading stage.”

But with regard to the retaliation claims, Magnus-Stinson said Williford’s complaint “does not contain any allegations as to whether she informed Amazon that the ‘harassment’ she experienced was linked to her protected status.” The chief judge dismissed that without prejudice, giving Williford 30 days to amend the retaliation portion of her complaint. If she does not amend that portion of the complaint within 30 days, the retaliation claim will be dismissed without prejudice.

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