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June 16, 2022

ATTORNEY GENERAL RAOUL LEADS COALITION DEFENDING STATES’ AUTHORITY TO PROTECT WORKERS FROM RETALIATION

Raoul, Coalition of Attorneys General Submit Amicus Brief In New York Lawsuit Alleging That Amazon Retaliated Against Workers

Chicago  — Attorney General Kwame Raoul today led a coalition of 15 attorneys general in submitting an amicus brief defending states’ authority to protect workers from retaliation.

A lawsuit filed in 2021 by New York Attorney General Letitia James alleged that Amazon failed to take adequate health and safety precautions for workers at its New York facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic and that the company unlawfully disciplined employees for protesting unsafe working conditions. New York brought retaliation claims against Amazon for firing one worker and disciplining another after they complained about the lack of health measures at an Amazon facility.

In May, a New York state appellate court dismissed James’ lawsuit. The court ruled that, because the disciplined employees had participated in protests that the court viewed as linked to a unionization drive, New York’s retaliation claims were preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRA governs collective bargaining and other coordinated efforts by workers. Raoul and the coalition have submitted an amicus brief supporting James’ request that the lower appellate court allow New York to appeal the decision to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

“When employers fail to comply with state laws regulating the workplace, employees play a critical role in reporting violations. Limiting states’ power to protect whistleblowers could have a chilling effect on workers’ willingness to report misconduct,” Raoul said. “If adopted elsewhere, this ruling could deprive state attorneys general of the authority to address retaliation when an employer fires or disciplines a worker for joining with others to report workplace misconduct.”

While there are some anti-retaliation protections at the federal level, most states have established even more robust laws that protect employees who report workplace misconduct from termination or other adverse action. Raoul argues that the appellate court’s ruling significantly expands the scope of claims that are preempted by the NLRA, which would diminish the reach of state protections for workers. According to the brief, the ruling expands NLRA preemption to include claims with relatively weak ties to collective action by employees.

The amicus brief is Attorney General Raoul’s most recent action to advocate for workers’ rights nationwide. In 2020, Raoul filed two lawsuits challenging Department of Labor rules that impermissibly altered protections for tipped workers and eliminated key protections for workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act. In 2022, Raoul led a multistate coalition in an amicus brief defending transportation workers’ rights at the U.S. Supreme Court and filed three amicus briefs supporting the federal government’s efforts to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour for certain federal contractors.

Attorney General Raoul has long fought unlawful employment practices, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. Raoul has devoted resources to educate and obtain compliance from employers in protecting their workforces through implementing adequate health and safety measures during the pandemic. Raoul also joined and led multistate efforts urging Amazon, Whole Foods and Walmart to strengthen measures to protect the health and safety of their workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attorney General Raoul encourages workers who believe their rights have been violated to contact his Workplace Rights Bureau by calling 1-844-740-5076 or by visiting the Attorney General’s website.

Joining Raoul in submitting the petition are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont.

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