More than two dozen Black workers at an Amazon warehouse in Joliet have filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming the retailer has refused to address racist conduct in the workplace.
The workers, represented by the Law Firm of Tamara N. Holder, LLC., have complained of being called the N-word, hearing about nooses and receiving death threats at work. They held a press conference in front of an Amazon Go in downtown Chicago on Wednesday.
“A lot of the [Black workers] are still in fear,” said Tori Davis, 34, who worked at the Joliet facility until July 13. “They walk around a lot more because they don’t want to be … unaware of what’s going on around them.”
Davis is one of the Black workers who filed a complaint with the EEOC this week. The complaint, provided to WBEZ, said workers found death threats against Black employees written in red marker in two women’s bathroom stalls in late May. The charge document said Amazon “painted over the messages before the crime scene had been investigated by authorities, and instead, continued with business as usual.”
Davis said when she saw a photo of the bathroom stall where someone had written “[N-word]s gonna die,” she and a group of Black workers saw it as a “direct threat.”
“I said, ‘We can’t just sit here and wait until something happens and then start ducking and dodging, we have to get out of here,’” she remembered.
The incident occurred just 11 days after a racist attack at a Buffalo supermarket where a white supremacist gunman killed 10 people, almost all of them Black. Fearing a deadly incident in the aftermath of the Buffalo shootings, upon learning of the threats in the bathroom stalls at the Joliet warehouse, workers there “began to flee the building, while others went to HR and asked for permission to leave work, citing their personal safety,” according to the charge document.
Workers said that 20 hours after the threats were discovered, Amazon sent employees a text message saying the company was “made aware of hateful and threatening graffiti” and that it “engaged law enforcement who investigated and did not identify threats to the site’s safety.” The text also said the company would conduct an investigation and take appropriate action, but workers say they have not heard any updates on the probe.
Davis, who worked at Amazon from November 2021 until earlier this month, said she believes she was fired after threatening legal action when managers did not agree to shut the facility down to investigate and implement safety protocols after the death threats.
Davis said she has appealed her firing. She hopes to return to work. “I love that job,” she said. “They just need some training and some policy changes.”
Patrick French, 20, who has worked at the facility for nearly two years, is also part of the EEOC complaint. He said he mostly enjoys working at the company but that Amazon should install metal detectors at the warehouse entrances.
“There’s no safety coming inside the building, you can bring whatever you want coming into the building,” he said. “There’s only metal detectors going out — they’re making sure you’re not stealing from them.”
Also in the EEOC document are claims that at least two men working in the Joliet warehouse have worn clothing that displays the Confederate flag — a symbol of white supremacy, according to the Anti-Defamation League — even after the company received complaints.
According to the document, the Black employees said Amazon “continues to allow these employees (white, male) to wear Confederate flag outfits,” and that Black workers are also “forced” to work with these colleagues.
Other charges in the document filed with the EEOC allege that Amazon would not allow Black workers to swap shifts for Juneteenth, a national holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.
The attorney for the workers, Tamara N. Holder, said it could take months or years for the case to move through the EEOC, which would ask for a position statement from Amazon as a next step. “It will be interesting to see how Amazon responds to this,” Holder said. From there, the case could go to mediation or become a class action lawsuit, she elaborated.
“This case is about protecting workers in America who shouldn’t have to go to work in fear,” Holder added.
Amazon responded to WBEZ’s request for an interview with the following statement from spokesman Richard Rocha: “Amazon works hard to protect our employees from any form of discrimination and to provide an environment where employees feel safe. Hate or racism have no place in our society and are certainly not tolerated by Amazon.”
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.