An organizational psychologist who worked for Amazon has filed a lawsuit claiming he was fired for being gay and for raising concerns about his supervisor’s bullying and unwanted sexual advances.
Jonathon Fahlberg was a senior business partner for human resources at a new Amazon warehouse in Spokane, Wash., from July to December 2020. In his suit, filed in Spokane County Superior Court, he says he was given no training or support for the job and that the company retaliated against him when he complained about his supervisor’s behavior, The Seattle Times reports.
Fahlberg had returned to his hometown of Spokane from London after the death of his husband, Michael Rittiman, from cancer in 2018. Fahlberg had lived in Europe for 17 years.
When he joined Amazon, he told the Times, “I literally got, ‘Here’s your computer, do your job.’ From the very beginning, it was a very negative experience.”
He tried befriending his supervisor, a woman who was new in Spokane. But on the night of August 15, 2020 — the second anniversary of his husband’s death — she “came to his apartment and, according to Fahlberg, groped him during an unsolicited sexual advance that shocked him,” the Times reports.
Shortly afterward, he says, she began bullying him, behavior that included verbal abuse and extending his work hours. She told him “that no one liked him and proceeded to make fun of the way [he] stood, dressed, and spoke,” court papers state. She refused to let him leave work to see his mother the night she died, and she threatened further action if he told anyone about the incident at his apartment, he says. The woman contends Fahlberg’s claims are not true.
Fahlberg says that in October 2020, he complained to the human resources department about his supervisor’s actions. He asked for a transfer and said he was worried about the fact that he’d been placed in a performance improvement program called FOCUS, as employees in the program are generally considered “problem employees” and are not eligible for transfers, according to his suit.
Amazon fired him November 16, 2020, and fired his supervisor December 4. “They admitted that something was wrong and they fired her, but they wouldn’t give me my job back,” Fahlberg told the Times.
Amazon spokesperson Maria Boschetti told the paper, “We disagree with the allegations made in the case and have no tolerance for retaliation, intimidation, or harassment against employees.”
Fahlberg’s case is scheduled to go to a jury trial in September.
Amazon is doing an internal review of how it handles discrimination claims in another part of the company, Amazon Web Services. The review was motivated by an employee petition and comes after the filing of lawsuits by five women against the division last year, alleging racial and gender discrimination. One of them, Cindy Warner, is gay and described hearing homophobic comments at work.