Amazon is trying to revive NY lawsuit blocking offer over COVID-19 guidelines

The Amazon logo is seen on a sign in front of the company’s LDJ5 sorting center in the Staten Island borough of New York City, the United States, April 25, 2022. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid.

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  • Amazon says the judge wrongly “abstained” from hearing his lawsuit.
  • The New York Attorney General’s COVID safety case against Amazon was recently dismissed

(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc will on Tuesday ask a US appeals court to reinstate its lawsuit seeking to stop the New York Attorney General from suing the online retailer over its efforts to protect warehouse workers from COVID-19 to investigate.

A panel of three judges from the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan will take up Amazon’s claim that the state’s investigation should be blocked because federal labor laws prevent it.

A New York state appeals court dismissed the AG’s case earlier this month.

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The AG began investigating Amazon after firing an employee and disciplining another who protested the company’s alleged lack of pandemic safety policies. Amazon sued in February 2021 to block the investigation, and the state filed its own lawsuit days later.

The AG claimed Amazon’s quest for faster growth and higher profits resulted in a “blatant disregard” for measures to protect workers at the warehouse and another facility in Queens, and that the company took illegal retaliatory action against protesting workers.

US District Judge Brian Cogan said in Brooklyn in August he must dismiss Amazon’s case because it would prejudice the state’s lawsuit.

Cogan cited Younger’s abstention doctrine, which was named after a 1971 US Supreme Court ruling that required federal courts to refrain from hearing civil claims by parties facing corresponding claims by state officials in state courts.

Amazon says in its appeal that Younger’s abstention does not apply where state law claims are preempted by federal law.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither does the public prosecutor’s office.

The state court that dismissed the attorney general’s case two weeks ago agreed with Amazon that the National Labor Relations Act preempts the state’s claims that Amazon retaliated against the two employees.

In a filing earlier this month, Amazon’s attorneys told the 2nd Circuit that the state court’s ruling supports the company’s position that the AG should never have opened an investigation or lawsuit because only a federal labor agency could pursue the allegations.

Attorney General Letitia James’ office responded in a filing that it disagreed with the verdict and was considering its options. But even if Amazon were to prevail on the issue of first refusal, the AG said the decision “confirms that the New York state courts are an appropriate forum for Amazon to seek judicial review.”

Amazon has said it took a comprehensive approach to COVID-19 safety and that two workers were disciplined or fired for violating those guidelines, rather than protesting.

Workers at the Staten Island warehouse voted last month to form a union, the first in Amazon history. The company questions the election result.

The case is Amazon.com Inc v. Attorney General Letitia James, 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-2007.

For Amazon: Jason Schwartz of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher

For the Attorney General: Deputy Attorney General Ester Murdukhayeva

Continue reading:

Amazon loses bid to block New York from auditing COVID-19 standards

Amazon.com wins dismissal of New York Attorney General’s lawsuit over workplace safety

New York accuses Amazon of backsliding on safety issues, seeks surveillance

Amazon gets hearing on what could overturn New York union vote

Amazon’s union: Two department stores, two results

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Daniel Wiesner

Thomson Reuters

Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) covers labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at [email protected]

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