In recent days, Amazon has worked to soften the blow of a blistering piece about its culture in Sunday’s New York Times. In the article’s immediate aftermath, Jeff Bezos wrote a memo to employees, saying the account “doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day.” He further pointed employees to a newer piece by current Amazon engineer Nick Ciubotariu that praises the company’s workplace environment.
The moves helped push the story in a positive direction for the company, as did the Times’s own public editor’s assessment of the story, which, she wrote Tuesday, should have provided more balance and context. (The Times’s executive editor, Dean Banquet, later let her know that he disagreed entirely with her assessment.)
Still, employment attorneys suggest it may be a little soon for Amazon to break out the bubbly. They think there could well be a class-action lawsuit in the many anecdotes cited by the Times of employees who were treated poorly — particularly those who appear to have they lost their jobs owing to health issues and other demands outside of Amazon.
Says Wilma Liebman, a visiting scholar at Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations, who spent three terms as a member of the National Labor Relations Board (including, most recently, as its chair): “Being a very tough boss, not being nice, not being sympathetic – that isn’t illegal in itself.” Violating overtime law and discriminating against women because they are pregnant is, however.