On November 1, a federal court in New York dismissed a lawsuit filed by several Amazon workers that largely sought to compel the company to comply with public health guidance. The case, Palmer v. Amazon.com Inc., was notable because the plaintiffs pursued novel claims for public nuisance and breach of the New York Labor Law based on allegations of inadequate contact tracing and employee screening as well as productivity requirements that prevented proper social distancing.
The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims for lack of jurisdiction and found that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is the more appropriate entity to assess the plaintiffs’ complaints. The court also evaluated the merits of the claims and found that, notwithstanding the lack of jurisdiction, they would not survive a motion to dismiss because the claims requested relief for unspecified future harm throughout the community at large.
While the ruling is only applicable in the Eastern District of New York, it limits one potential avenue of recovery for those who are dissatisfied with their employers’ response to the pandemic. Nevertheless, employers should remain vigilant regarding their compliance with public health guidance. Employees and attorneys are likely to continue attempting creative strategies to hold employers accountable for perceived failures to sufficiently protect the workplace against COVID-19.