Lawsuit alleges Amazon retaliated against former employee who spoke out on Salem warehouse conditions

The 1-million-square-foot fulfillment center in southeast Salem owned by online retail giant Amazon was one of the companies named in recent OSHA complaints. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)

A former employee at Amazon’s Salem warehouse sued the online retailer Tuesday, alleging she was fired for taking medical leave following apparent coronavirus infection and for speaking out about workplace safety issues related to the outbreak.

Enesha Yurchak, 35, is a certified medical technician and paramedic, according to the complaint. She started work at Amazon’s Salem facility in 2018, serving as an onsite medical representative. The facility had about 1,000 employees before the outbreak and Amazon said last month it had added 100 to meet rising demand.

In her complaint, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, Yurchak alleges Amazon wasn’t appropriately cleaning safety harnesses employees wear while moving freight. She said Amazon’s procedures increased risk of coronavirus exposure, but Yurchak alleged her supervisor insisted she follow those procedures and wash the harnesses anyway.

Separately, Yurchak said she had symptoms of COVID-19 beginning in early March. She was on leave from March 18 to April 14, according to the complaint. The litigation indicates Yurchak was unable to obtain testing but believes she was infected with the coronavirus.

Yurchak said her supervisor argued with her upon her return and she became ill afterwards, waking up the next morning with a fever and sore throat.

Later that next day, the complaint alleges Amazon fired her for “insubordination.” Yurchak seeks lost wages, attorney costs and unspecified “punitive damages.”

Amazon did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the litigation.

The Seattle-based online retailer has continued shipping packages through the coronavirus outbreak and has attracted a number of complaints from workers who allege the company isn’t taking appropriate safety precautions.

On Monday, Amazon Vice President Tim Bray said he quit in protest of “a vein of toxicity running through the company culture” in its response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Amazon has taken steps to contain the outbreak within its workforce, though. The company said last week it has spent “hundreds of millions” of dollars to develop its own coronavirus testing capacity. Amazon’s Troutdale warehouse is among the first places the company is piloting that testing program.

— Aimee Green of The Oregonian/OregonLive contributed to this report.

This story is published as part of a collaborative of news organizations across Oregon sharing stories in the public interest. Salem Reporter is part of the collaborative.