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Black Amazon Employee Sues Former Bosses, Alleges Sexual Harassment, Says One Yanked Her Braids

Black Amazon Employee Sues Former Bosses, Alleges Sexual Harassment, Says One Yanked Her Braids

Charlotte Newman, a former adviser to Senator Cory Booker, is suing tech giant Amazon and two of her former bosses for sexual harassment and gender discrimination. 

Newman told Vox that when she joined the company as a senior manager in the Amazon Web Services division in Jan. 2017, she was initially given a role lower than the one she was offered and had to wait years for a promotion even after taking on more work than her peers. She said her former boss, director Steve Block, repeatedly called her intimidating, “scary” and “too direct.”

She also said Andres Maz, another former superior, repeatedly sexually harassed her, propositioning her for sex, groping her at work and yanking on her braids during a work event. 

“Just to have someone treat you in a manner that shows clear disrespect, it’s been something that’s been very difficult to process and live with. I started ensuring I stay at a different hotel, fly at different flights intentionally and made sure I wasn’t in a private space around this individual,” Newman told WUSA9. 

“It was demoralizing to do work that I knew should have come with a higher title and greater compensation. Maybe if I looked differently then I might be paid, and been slotted in, differently,” she added. 

Newman filed the lawsuit in district court in Washington, D.C., citing violations of the Equality Pay Act. 

“There’s been deep emotional pain. All of the hard work, all of the sacrifices I made, my education — none of that saved me from someone who’s a predator and living in fear of what else he might do,” Newman told Vox.

She noted that a third Amazon executive, Vice President Shannon Kellogg, was involved in discriminating against her. Newman said Kellogg relied on Maz to judge her work and made a number of comments about her and other women at the office. 

In a statement to multiple outlets, Amazon said it was investigating the incident. 

Newman’s story follows a wave of allegations in recent months from Black employees at Amazon who accuse the company of a variety of violations and offenses including discrimination and harassment, according to Vox. These allegations span across all levels of the company, from executives high up in departments like Amazon Web Services to those driving Amazon delivery trucks and sorting packages. 

As Blavity previously reported last month, a Black woman’s family accused Amazon of forcing her to move from package sorting to a unit that tested warehouse workers for COVID-19. She had no medical training and cited a lack of PPE before dying unexpectedly in January. Her family said the company wouldn’t even return their calls, only offering a gift card to free grief counseling that expired on April 1. 

People on social media have started speaking out and backing up Newman’s allegations. 

“I strongly believe that Amazon should be harnessing the light of diverse leadership rather than dimming the light of Black employees and other employees of color. For years I had been sort of suffering in silence, [but] I’m sure there are a lot of people who now feel more empowered to add their voices to the story, and hopefully, there’s some real change that occurs,” Newman said. 

She went on to explain that a previous report from Vox resonated with her because dozens of other Black Amazon employees shared similar experiences with the news outlet. Vox spoke to 10 Black Amazon employees who said they, too, were hired at levels lower than they expected or thought they deserved. The practice is known internally at Amazon as “down-leveling” or “de-leveling.”

Chanin Kelly-Rae, a former Amazon diversity manager, admitted that the company does this intentionally to Black women. 

“It is not uncommon for women, and especially Black women, to have a role advertised at one level but extended an offer at a position that is lower,” Kelly-Rae said.

She later told WUSA9 that her budget for diversity efforts was less than what other departments received. 

“I shared how much money I was given in terms of budget, and I had other leaders tell me that they had more money to buy t-shirts than I had for my program. What does that tell you about the culture? That a business team or an engineering team could have more money for swag than a Global Diversity Inclusion leader could have for their programming,” Kelly-Rae said. 

Newman has a decorated record, graduating from Harvard and spending three years as an economic policy advisor to Booker after working on Capitol Hill for multiple members of Congress on the House Financial Services Committee. Newman said she had many white co-workers who were repeatedly promoted over her despite having no graduate degrees and less experience. 

She said she kept her head down and swallowed the discrimination and harassment from Maz until last June when the protests over police brutality and racism started.

“It caused me to really think deeply about the things that I had remained silent about. Outwardly the company was supporting Black Lives Matter, for example, but internally, I knew that that wasn’t showing up as it applied to employees, particularly Black employees,” she told WBUR.

“It just shouldn’t be the case that a victim of sexual harassment and assault can come forward and not be protected. There should be real safeguards put in place and an actual program so that employees who experience sexual harassment or discrimination have some kind of redress,” she added. 

In Newman’s lawsuit, she said the internal complaint she filed led to Maz’s firing and forced Block to take training. 

She has since been moved to a new division within Amazon but filed the suit because she was unhappy with how the investigation was handled. Before Maz was fired, she was forced to sit in meetings with him while the investigation played out, and she feared retaliation.  

“I’m staying because I believe I have the right to continue and try and grow at one of the biggest tech companies in the world. I’m staying because I want the company to do better not just for me, but other women and other women of color. If I were to leave, I think it would just be feeding into a broader issue and process that I think needs to change,” Newman said. 

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