Amazon faces class action for not paying workers on military leave

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  • Walmart recently paid $14 million to settle similar claims
  • Amazon pays for jury duty and bereavement

(Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc has been hit with a proposed nationwide class action claiming it unlawfully refuses to pay workers who take short-term military leave, even while it provides paid leave for jury duty and bereavement.

Caonaissa Won, an Army reservist and former employee at an Amazon warehouse in New York, filed a complaint in Brooklyn federal court on Thursday accusing the online retail giant of violating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA).

USERRA requires employers who provide paid leave to absent or furloughed workers to also pay employees who take military leave.

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But Won, represented by Virginia & Ambinder, says that since at least 2004 Amazon has refused to pay workers who take 30 days or less of military leave even while it covers the wages of employees who take short-term, non-military leave.

In 2020 alone, at least 8,000 Amazon employees in the U.S. performed about 20,000 days of military service, according to the complaint.

Seattle-based Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

The lawsuit is similar to a class action that Walmart Inc in December agreed to pay $14 million to settle. Walmart, which denied wrongdoing, also said that effective Jan. 1 it would offer 30 days of fully paid military leave per year to service members. If workers' service assignments continue beyond 30 days, they may be eligible for an additional year of paid leave, the company said.

Won, the plaintiff in the lawsuit against Amazon, proposed a class of current and former Amazon employees who have taken military leave for 30 days or less since October 2004.

Won is seeking to recover unpaid wages, lost earnings and benefits, and liquidated damages.

The case is Won v. Amazon.com Inc, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, No. 1:21-cv-02867.

For Won: LaDonna Lusher of Virginia & Ambinder

For Amazon: Not available

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.