NOVEMBER 3, 2022
The billionaire, who has kept a low profile lately, faces a lawsuit from a former housekeeper for discrimination. He denies the charges.
Billionaire Jeff Bezos has been keeping a low profile in recent months.
He briefly broke his silence last month to issue a dire warning about the economy at a time when economic concerns are running high.
“Yep, the probabilities in this economy tell you to batten down the hatches,” Bezos posted on Twitter on Oct. 18.
People should prepare for an economic crisis that appears on the horizon, Amazon’s executive chairman is warning.
Discrimination Charged; Bezos Attorney Responds
A few weeks later Bezos again finds himself in the spotlight.
The billionaire faces a complaint from a former housekeeper who accuses him and two entities through which he manages his personal investments and properties, Zefram LLC and Northwestern LLC, of discrimination.
In a lawsuit filed with in King County Superior Court in Washington State on Nov. 1, Mercedes Wedaa said that she was the victim of discrimination when she was employed by Bezos.
You can read the lawsuit here.
“Employers discriminated against plaintiff because of her race, forced plaintiff to work long hours without rest or meal breaks, exposed plaintiff to unsafe and unsanitary work conditions, retaliated against and wrongfully terminated plaintiff’s employment,” Wedaa said in the complaint.
Geekwire was the first to report about the action.
Wedaa claims material damages and the reimbursement of legal fees.
“We have investigated the claims, and they lack merit,” Harry Korrel, an attorney with Davis Wright Tremaine, who represents Bezos and Northwestern, said in an emailed statement. “Ms. Wedaa made over six figures annually and was the lead housekeeper.”
The plaintiff joined the Bezos staff in September 2019 after applying for the position of lead housekeeper via EstateJobs.com. After a first interview, she was hired as house coordinator.
She said she was also the only employee with the role of housekeeper. At the beginning of 2020, she was frequently assisted in her tasks by two contractors whom she supervised.
A year later, another housekeeper was recruited. And toward the end of 2021, Wedaa as lead housekeeper was overseeing a team of five to six housekeepers.
Work Conditions Described — and Response
“The housekeeping team were all Hispanic (except for Kristina Gach who was Caucasian and did not join until 2020). There was no breakroom for the housekeepers. Even though plaintiff worked 10,12, and sometimes 14 hours a day, there was no designated area for her to sit down and rest,” the lawsuit said.
“Plaintiff and other housekeepers would try and eat some food in the upstairs laundry room, which was very small, only about 10 X 6ft, and without seats or appliances like a microwave or fridge. No information from the Department of Labor and industries informing employees of their employee rights was posted anywhere in the workplace.”
She claimed that she and the other housekeepers had to walk a great distance to access a toilet.
“For about 18 months, in order to use a bathroom, plaintiff and other housekeepers were forced to climb out the laundry room window to the outside. Then run along the path to the mechanical room, through the mechanical room and downstairs to a bathroom. This toilet was used by both men and women, for example grounds staff used it too.”
She added: “because there was no readily accessible bathroom, plaintiff and other housekeepers spend large parts of their day unable to use the toilet even though they needed to. As a result of this, the housekeepers frequently developed Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs).”
Wedaa also asserts that the house manager and his assistant, who were both Caucasian, were “demeaning and disrespectful.” She claimed there was separate treatment for Hispanic employees and White employees.
“They mocked and ridiculed plaintiff,” the lawsuit claimed. The two managers “did not treat the only white housekeeper, Kristina Gach, in such ways.”
“She [Wedaa] was responsible for her own break and meal times, and there were several bathrooms and breakrooms available to her and other staff,” attorney Korrel told TheStreet.
“The evidence will show that Ms. Wedaa was terminated for performance reasons. She initially demanded over $9M, and when the company refused, she decided to file this suit. Given their backgrounds, the suggestion that Mr. Bezos, Ms. Sanchez, or Northwestern LLC discriminated against Ms. Wedaa based on her race or national origin is absurd.”
Bezos’s adoptive father is a Cuban immigrant, while Lauren Sanchez, the Amazon founder’s companion since 2019, is the daughter of a second-generation Mexican-American family.
Damages Sought in the Complaint
In addition, the complaint said that the assistant house manager “became aggressive and abusive — even threatening — when communicating with plaintiff.”
The complainant says that she complained on several occasions and that in return she paid a price.
“Defendants retaliated against plaintiff. Defendants leveled false allegations of poor performance against plaintiff and required her to review some coaching videos. Plaintiff was demoted from her supervisory role.”
In the end, Wedaa said she was terminated because she complained about the discrimination of which she was the victim and because she raised the issue of the employees’ working conditions.
She is asking damages, the amount of which is not specified, for, among other things, lost wages and benefits.