Jury Orders Amazon To Pay Ex-Employee With Asperger’s $1.2 Million
A former Amazon employee with Asperger’s syndrome claimed he was bullied and abused by co-workers at a warehouse in San Bernardino, Calif. and the company did nothing when he spoke up.
Co-workers called him “retard,” “a waste of life,” and one person asked why he was working there “if you can’t do the job?” according to a lawsuit filed in court.
A jury awarded the worker, Michael Kopp, $1.2 million earlier this month after finding that Amazon intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the former employee when its human resources department failed to stop the harassment.
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“Sadly what ended up happening is HR did nothing for months,” said Raymond Babaian, an attorney who represented Kopp. “As a result, (Kopp’s) fear and anxiety increased.”
Attorneys representing Amazon in the suit did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Amazon also did not immediately respond to inquiries about the ruling.
Kopp, who has Asperger’s and dyslexia, was hired as a “warehouse associate” at Amazon’s Fulfillment Center in San Bernardino in October 2015.
At first, Kopp was hired on a temporary basis but was made full-time in March 2016, according to court records.
Because of his disorders, Kopp has difficulty with social interactions, nonverbal communication and difficulty reading, according to the initial complaint filed in February 2021.
Despite those difficulties, Babaian said his client excelled in his job and, in 2019, was recognized as the third top associate in productivity for the entire facility.
But his time at the company was also tainted with abuse, Babaian said, including verbal insults from co-workers and an employee who would throw boxes in Kopp’s direction.
In one instance, an employee threw a 4-pound suit. When Kopp brought it up to a supervisor, the supervisor allegedly asked him not to report the incident, the lawsuit said.
Babaian said his client tried to bring up his concerns to superiors several times but, because of his Asperger’s, he brought the incidents up as hypotheticals at first, he said.
Kopp asked supervisors what to do if someone was “mean” to him, or what he should do if someone threw something at him.
But according to the complaint, Kopp alleged the warehouse “seemed to operate much like a high school bullying the disabled kid.”
After multiple incidents, Babaian said Kopp asked an assistant manager for help and filed a two-page complaint with the human resources department, detailing several of the incidents of harassment. However, he did not see any changes in response, and grew more worried the harassment would increase because of his complaint.
“He couldn’t handle the abuse any more and the fear of coming in to work,” Babaian said. “He tried asking for help.”
Kopp believes he started having severe anxiety as a result. In one instance, after experiencing headaches and dizziness at work, an on-site nurse gave him a “sick bag” and told him to go back to work, according to the complaint.
On Sept. 21, 2020, the complaint alleges Kopp went to see a doctor who believed his illness was stress-related, and gave him a note excusing him from work for a day.
A manager and human resources representative, however, did not accept the note and told Kopp he had to report to work. Kopp alleges he experienced another anxiety attack, and did not return to work after Sept. 21, 2020.
He was fired on Oct. 15, 2020 for job abandonment, according to the complaint.
Kopp filed his lawsuit in February 2021, claiming the company intentionally inflicted emotional distress and allowed the conduct to occur.
Another claim filed by Kopp alleging disability harassment did not get the necessary support of nine out of the 12 jurors — who instead voted 7 to 5 in Kopp’s favor — to approve the claim. Babaian said Kopp plans to file a retrial for that claim.
© 2023 Los Angeles Times
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC
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