A former Amazon.com manager in Michigan is suing the online retail giant, alleging that he was discriminated against, subjected to falsified performance reviews and later fired, primarily because he is a Muslim of Syrian descent.
Abdullah Haydar, a former manager in the company’s Seattle and Detroit offices from 2012 to 2015, on Friday morning filed suit against Amazon and three of his former supervisors — Garret Gaw, Peter Faricy and Joel Mosby — in U.S. District Court Eastern Michigan, Southern Division.
Haydar alleges that disparaging remarks were made about him during his time at Amazon, including “ethnically and religious tinged comments” about his marriage, including one alleged comment that indicated that Muslims do not treat their wives properly.
Amazon declined to comment on the case, citing a policy of not discussing active litigation. But the company did indicate that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated Haydar’s concerns, found no violation of law, and dismissed his charge, and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights accepted the EEOC’s decision and also dismissed his complaint.
Vicki Levengood, communications director for Michigan Department of Civil Rights, confirmed that a complaint was filed and processed earlier this year by EEOC. EEOC did not return a phone call requesting comment, and EEOC said on its website that cases are unavailable for third parties, including media organizations.
Haydar’s attorneys declined to comment on the case.
Here’s the crux of Haydar’s suit:
Mr. Haydar’s work created billions in revenue for Amazon, and he was widely praised for his performance by peers, direct reports, and colleagues from across Amazon worldwide.
Despite this performance, Mr. Haydar, a Muslim U.S. Citizen of Syrian descent, was repeatedly subjected to demeaning comments directed at his national origin, religion, and marital status, given false and derogatory performance reviews, passed over for promotion in favor of less successful Caucasian peers, and denied transfers and other career opportunities.
Haydar alleges that he escalated his claims of discrimination to human resources at Amazon, which he said repeatedly sided with the defendants. The claims come 14 months after a controversial report in The New York Times described a cut-throat work environment at Amazon, where non-performing employees were pushed out.
Haydar claims that his treatment is an example of the abusive culture documented in The New York Times report. Amazon’s Jay Carney, the former journalist and White House press secretary later challenged the New York Times’ reporting on multiple fronts.
In response to the NYT report, Bezos himself sent a memo to employees, encouraging them to read the piece, and requested that anyone seeing the type of abusive culture described should report it immediately to human resources or directly to him. Haydar claims he reached out to Bezos, once before the NYT report and once after. But he said he received no response, and was subsequently terminated.
Haydar is asking for a jury trial and wants compensation for the emotional and physical toll of the abuse from his superiors, as well as lost wages and benefits.
Additionally, Haydar wants the court to order Amazon to “take effective steps to prevent ongoing discrimination and harassment of employees; fully investigate and appropriately respond to all conduct that may constitute discrimination and harassment; and mitigate the effects of discrimination and harassment by eliminating any hostile environment that may impact any employees who make claim as victims.”
Court documents and the LinkedIn profiles of all three defendants named in the lawsuit suggest they still appear to be with the company in leadership positions. Attempts to reach the executives were unsuccessful.
Haydar joined Amazon in November 2012 as a senior manager of selection tech in the Seattle office. The person leading Haydar’s team at the time allegedly “suffered from a lack of leadership and the skills necessary to run a team at Amazon,” according to court documents, so Haydar went to Faricy in June 2013 to talk about leadership issues.
Haydar alleges that Faricy told him to “keep your mouth shut and do your job.”
When Haydar’s department was reorganized in October 2013 the lead was removed, and Faricy promoted Mosby, a peer of Haydar’s. Haydar alleges that performance data would show that Mosby performed poorly.
In early 2014, Haydar transferred to an office in his hometown of Detroit, but continued to report to Mosby. In May of that year, he received a negative performance review, which he disputed. He escalated the issue to HR, which did not change the results of the review, but assured Haydar that he was still in good standing with the company.
Haydar alleges he challenged Mosby about his performance review in a one-on-one meeting. “Apparently due to Mr. Mosby’s discriminatory animus and displeasure at being challenged for his behavior by a Muslim and Arab American, Mr. Mosby immediately sought HR approval to place Mr. Haydar on a (performance improvement plan),” court documents say.
According to court documents, Mosby attributed the need for the improvement plan to Haydar challenging him over treatment of an employee transferring to the Detroit office from Seattle. This time, human resources sided with Haydar and told Mosby to de-escalate the situation because one disagreement is not enough ammunition for such a review.
Haydar said he tried to transfer to another team to escape the discrimination he faced, but was unable to do so because of negative performance reviews. Haydar alleges that he heard from HR that he should should look for a new job because he was not a “good fit” for Amazon.
In May 2015, he contacted Bezos for the first time, and a month later was placed on a performance improvement plan because of “substantially broken trust” between him and several key employees. Haydar alleges HR ignored evidence he collected that disputed the broken trust allegations.
In September, following the publication of the NYT story and Bezos’ memo to employees, Haydar said he tried to contact Bezos again but never got a response. A week later, Haydar claims he was terminated with no cause.
Haydar’s LinkedIn profile says he is currently a technology executive but did not list the company. Last December, a story on Haydar appeared on the Michigan Venture Capital Association website, announcing Haydar as the new vice president of engineering at FarmLogs, a startup that wants to bring better technology to agriculture. Attempts to reach FarmLogs were unsuccessful. Haydar does not appear on the company’s staff page.
Here’s the full lawsuit: