By Daniel Wiessner
(Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Thursday declined to revive claims that Amazon.com Inc fired New York warehouse worker Christian Smalls, a pivotal figure in a campaign to unionize the company’s workforce, because he is Black.
A three-judge panel of the Manhattan-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a brief order said a judge in Brooklyn correctly ruled that Smalls’ 2020 firing after he organized a protest against Amazon had no connection to his race.
Amazon and lawyers for Smalls did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Amazon fired Smalls in March 2020, saying he joined a protest at the Staten Island warehouse where he supervised other workers despite being on paid quarantine after he had close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.
Smalls in a lawsuit filed that year said he was targeted because of his race and his advocacy for the warehouse’s largely non-white workforce.
At a hearing last week, the 2nd Circuit judges said he failed to back up those claims and that his termination appeared to be connected to his complaints about safety conditions and not racial issues.
Smalls and other workers at the warehouse founded the Amazon Labor Union, which in April won the first U.S. union vote in Amazon’s 27-year history. Workers at other Amazon warehouses in New York and Alabama have rejected unions.
Several complaints were filed with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board claiming Amazon illegally retaliated against pro-union workers at the Staten Island warehouse, including Smalls. Amazon has denied wrongdoing in those cases, which are pending.
Smalls became a high-profile figure after his firing, leading a boycott of Amazon and testifying before the U.S. Senate in a jacket that read “Eat the Rich”.
(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Rosalba O’Brien)