A newly filed lawsuit alleges that Amazon discriminated against employees who served in the U.S. armed services or National Guard by assessing them unpaid time off when they took military leave and then firing them when their military leave caused a negative balance in their Unpaid Time Off (“UTO”) accounts.
The plaintiff, Yasmine Mahone, was a member of the Alabama Army National Guard. She worked for Amazon briefly in 2020. During this time, she regularly worked three 12-hour shifts a week, from Thursday afternoons to Sunday mornings. She also took various military leaves to fulfill her obligations with the National Guard. In mid-October 2020, Mahone was required to report for weekend drills as part of her military service. She notified Amazon and took military leave without pay starting that Thursday. But on Sunday, her last day of the drills, she says she received an email from Amazon telling her she was fired because her unpaid time off balance was 36 hours, meaning she was charged with three missed shifts because of her military service.
Mahone sued Amazon for violating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (“USERRA”). USERRA prohibits “discrimination against persons because of their service in the uniformed services.” The law protects persons who serve or have served in the uniformed services from acts of discrimination and reprisal; for example, a person “who is a member of, . . . performs, has performed, . . . or has an obligation to perform service in a uniformed service shall not be denied initial employment, reemployment, retention in employment, promotion, or any benefit of employment by an employer on the basis of that membership, . . . performance of service, . . . or obligation.”
An employee need not request time off or permission to perform military service obligations. The employee must give notice to the employer, such notice may be verbal or written, and need not follow any particular format. USERRA provides at a minimum, an employee must have enough time after leaving the employment position to travel safely to the uniformed service site and arrive fit to perform the service. “If the employee performs a full overnight shift for the civilian employer and travels directly from the work site to perform a full day of uniformed service, the employee would not be considered fit to perform the uniformed service. An absence from that work shift is necessitated so that the employee can report for uniformed service fit for duty.
Mahone’s lawsuit has been filed as a class action, seeking to represent in excess of 1,000 Amazon employees who are covered by USERRA.