As stated in The Seattle Times on February 20, 2022, a psychologist who was formerly employed by Amazon claims that he was fired when he spoke out on the bullying and inappropriate behavior from a leader at one of the massive Amazon warehouses.
One employee who used to work as a senior business partner in the human resources department, Jonathan Fahlberg, admitted that Amazon’s management failed to respond when he had concerns with his supervisor. Saying that the supervisor propositioned him and then later retaliated. But, ultimately both were fired when Fahlberg requested support.
Fahlberg has filed an employment discrimination lawsuit claiming he was fired because he is gay.
Finding himself at the end of an Amazon HR system that fails in doing its job by not supporting their workers and by not removing toxic managers.
“Given that they’re approaching being the world’s largest employer,” he said, “they think they can do anything.”
Fahlberg’s former manager denied the claims that she groped him during a visit to his apartment but did say she visited his home that night, Amazon also admitted this in court filings.
Johnathan Fahlberg arrived at Amazon in summer of 2020 and his employment was filled with tragedy from the start.
For 17 years he had lived in Europe and grew a human resources consultancy in London, leaving London in 2018 after his husband died. After his husband’s cancer left him broke, Fahlberg returned home and eventually ended up at Amazon. Amazon had been preparing to open a new fulfillment center by the Spokane International Airport.
Starting his employment with Amazon in July 2020 Fahlberg was expected to provide HR support for the 1,500 workers that would be employed in the facility. Leading a team of six to nine people, Amazon failed to provide him with the training necessary to work the 32 different software systems.
“I literally got, ‘Here’s your computer, do your job,’” Fahlberg said. “From the very beginning, it was a very negative experience.”
Fahlberg attempted to become friends with his manager, a woman who had arrived in Spokane recently. But the friendship took a turn on August 15, 2020, the second anniversary of his husband’s death. Arriving at his apartment she groped him during an unsolicited sexual advance.
In court Fahlberg says she had begun to verbally abuse him shortly after the incident in his apartment. Criticizing him in front of his coworkers and forcing him to work nights, she refused to let him leave during a 15 hour shift to care for his dying mother.
“I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to my mother, because she kept me at the fulfillment center,” Fahlberg said in an interview.
The bullying and verbal abuse intensified as time went on, said Ryan Best, the attorney that was representing Fahlberg.
In one meeting with his attorney Fahlberg said that his manager told him “that no one liked him and proceeded to make fun of the way [he] stood, dressed, and spoke.” Then she threatened him if he told others about the night in his apartment.
“Mr. Fahlberg was terrified at the blatant threat to his career should he choose to seek help for the unwanted sexual advances,” Best said in court papers.
The woman’s attorney said that she did accept the invitation to Fahlberg’s apartment but denied that anything inappropriate happened on that visit. The attorney refused requests to comment and described the manager as “happily married.” Denying that Fahlberg was groped or prevented from caring for his mother the night she died.
In late October Fahlberg filed a complaint against the manager through the human resource system for HR workers, HR4HR, speaking with a representative for over an hour.
“I was struggling and I was begging for training,” Fahlberg said during an interview. “It had gotten to the point that I could not handle it anymore.”
While talking to the HR4HR representative he requested a transfer within Amazon and shared his concerns about being placed in FOCUS, which is a performance improvement system. Amazon employees placed in FOCUS are generally ineligible for a transfer and are treated as problem employees. Fired on November 16, 2020 after having a short meeting with upper management at the facility, his manager was not fired until weeks later on December 4, 2020.
“They admitted that something was wrong and they fired her, but they wouldn’t give me my job back,” Fahlberg said.
Generally Amazon will place employees who are in danger of being fired into a program called Pivot. They are offered successively less generous separation packages, from three months in paid severance that dwindle to one week of pay if they refuse to leave voluntarily. Fahlberg says he was not offered a severance package and that Amazon tried to get the signing bonus back but it was not contingent on his performance.
Best believes Amazon was “ cleaning house” when it fired the pair. Amazon refused to provide documentation relevant to the claims and had recently won a protective order that was meant to limit access to the documents they handed over during the litigation.
“I believe Amazon is hiding documents,” Best said in early January. “I think [those documents are] going to show that Amazon wanted to get rid of Mr. Fahlberg because he was gay, and because his supervisor had behaved inappropriately.”
Due to Amazon employees circulating a petition, Amazon is conducting an investigation into how discrimination claims are reviewed. This is following Condy Warner being fired, a gay woman who had been an executive at Amazon Web Services, and the leaving of Laudon Williams, both describing hearing homophobic comments from Amazon leaders.
Chime is used throughout Amazon as an Amazon-run instant messaging platform. Amazon controls the Chime messages but Fahlberg was unable to have access to it after he was fired. One message exchange shows one Amazon manager directing another to include an attorney on any future messages about a problematic incident. Doing so would shield the messages from disclosure if a lawsuit was filed under attorney-client privilege protections.
“Slight change in approach,” the senior manager wrote in an Oct. 5, 2020, exchange. “Email to me … but make sure [Amazon senior corporate counsel for labor and employment] Jaime Cole is in the To line and put ACP in the subject. It puts all conversation about it under attorney-client privilege.”
Best said that Amazon leadership believes that Amazon can do as it pleases without caution on retaliation, hostile work environments, and discrimination.
“We’re just seeking accountability,” he said. “Even large companies need to follow the law.” Fahlberg said that Amazon constantly puts itself out there as a place where anyone can build a career. But the truth was far from this fantasy. “This diversity image that they portray, it’s a facade,” Fahlberg said. “I simply want people to understand that they are not this happy company. And I hope it never happens to another person.”
Aggressively protecting itself, Amazon denied all of the allegations of misconduct, on the other hand they won a protective order that is meant to shield Amazon’s HR processes from being disclosed to the public.
“We disagree with the allegations made in the case, and have no tolerance for retaliation, intimidation or harassment against employees,” said Maria Boschetti, an Amazon spokesperson. Boschetti declined to take questions about the matter.
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