Amazon, the world’s No. 1 most valuable brand and top online retailer, is being hit with a federal discrimination lawsuit by one of its Washington D.C. senior managers. Charlotte Newman, Head of Underrepresented Founder Startup Business Development in the Amazon Web Services division, says that she was the victim of sexual harassment, pay inequity, and racist treatment from other managers at the company. Furthermore, she asserts that her concerns were dismissed when she spoke up about the treatment, and that the public image of Amazon actually belies a hidden toxic culture.
“Like so many other Black and female employees at Amazon, Charlotte Newman was confronted with a systemic pattern of insurmountable discrimination based upon the color of her skin and her gender,” her suit alleges. “It is astounding that even highly specific instances of harassment that Ms. Newman has experienced as a Black woman at Amazon, such as a senior employee yanking on her hair or being told by a manager she is ‘too direct’ and ‘scary,’ are echoed in incidents involving other Black female employees.”
According to the case put forth by Ms. Newman, the discrimination began from the moment she was hired in 2016. Prior working at Amazon, the Harvard University MBA graduate was also a former economic adviser to N.J. Senator Cory Booker.
The suit says she was eventually brought on to the AWS team, but at a “Level 7” position and pay grade, lower than for what she applied and for which she believed she was qualified. Then, to quiet her, she was tasked with the duties of the initial position a few months later, “Level 8,” but was not given the commensurate title or salary until two years later.
Ms. Newman continues in her suit to say one senior manager inappropriately groped her while at a restaurant in January 2018, and proposed that she have sex with him later that night. In another incident, occurring in November 2019 during a work trip, the suit says Ms. Newman was trying on a jacket when a coworker told her, “Oh my god, you like like a gorilla!” However, she reported that she spoke with the coworker directly afterwards, and that individual apologized.
On its end, Amazon has not disputed the claims but vows to look into them, and the organization posits that it has an environment contrary to the one depicted by Ms. Newman. “Amazon works hard to foster a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture, and these allegations do not reflect those efforts or our values,” the company said in a prepared statement. “We do not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind and thoroughly investigate all claims and take appropriate action. We are currently investigating the new allegations included in this lawsuit.”
In spite of the legal action she is taking against the tech giant, Ms. Newman has no plans of leaving the company. According to her attorney Douglas Wigdor, founding partner of Wigdor LLP, any kind of exit or settlement would have most likely included a confidentiality clause, and she would then not be able to share her story. Wigdor is known for representing six of the women who accused bigtime Hollywood exec Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. He noted that, although Ms. Newman fears being blackballed, speaking out is the only way to stop this kind of treatment and spark the necessary improvement at Amazon.
“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.”