Who is Charlotte Newman? Amazon sued by Black manager over alleged racial discrimination, sexual harassment

Harvard graduate Charlotte Newman was allegedly underpaid and mistreated by a former and two current executives but she decided to stay back to see 'changes from within'


                            Who is Charlotte Newman? Amazon sued by Black manager over alleged racial discrimination, sexual harassment
A Black Amazon senior manager is suing Amazon and two of its current executives for alleged race and gender discrimination (Getty Images)

E-commerce giant Amazon has found itself under the scanner after one of its senior managers, a woman of color, has sued it for alleged racial and gender discrimination by two current executives and sexual harassment by a third former executive. She has also accused the tech giant of pay inequity. 

Charlotte Newman, who has worked in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) division since January 2017, filed her lawsuit on Monday, March 1, in a district court in Washington DC against the company and the accused executives -- current and former. According to her, the discrimination started shortly after she was hired at Amazon for the position of public policy manager in Washington, which was a level lower than the position she initially applied for despite her qualification being more, Newman’s attorney Douglas Wigdor, a noted entertainment lawyer, told USA TODAY. Wigdor said his client yet accepted the “Level 6” job in Amazon since she was told that her responsibilities would only require her to carry out domestic policy work related to the US. But she found herself doing “Level 7” international-based work outside the US nine months later, including in locations in Canada and Latin America, the report added. 

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Wigdor said the “de-leveling” cost Newman pay worth hundreds of thousands. “He claims that Newman has lost money because of restricted stock account for a significant portion of Amazon pay packages as the company has seen its stock price soar over the years, especially during the pandemic,” the TODAY report added. According to her suit, Newman got paid significantly less than her White co-workers. She eventually got promoted to a “Level 7” position more than two-and-a-half years after doing the work since joining Amazon, Wigdor said. 

Newman, who studied at the Harvard Business School, worked with political figures before joining Amazon. According to her LinkedIn profile, Newman served as legislative aide to various members of the Congress and an economic policy advisor to New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker before her stint with Amazon. 

According to Charlotte Newman, the discrimination started shortly after she was hired at Amazon for the position of public policy manager in Washington (rep image/Getty Images)

Charges of discrimination and sexual harassment

Newman’s lawsuit also followed several reports citing how Black employees at Amazon accused the retailer of racism and discrimination. She has also accused former AWS director Andres Maz of sexually harassing her and assaulting her for groping her “upper thigh” under a table during an office dinner and pulling her braided hair when she tried to exit a bar during another office event. She also accused her first boss Steve Block of discriminating against her by alleging that she was “too direct” and “aggressive” in her communication style. The lawsuit revealed that Maz was expelled after Amazon conducted an internal probe while requiring Block to undergo training. Shannon Kellogg, an AWS vice president, is the other current executive beside Block who Newman accused of discrimination. 

Newman eventually spoke up about her experience after she started working from home following the outbreak of the pandemic and the brutal killings of Black individuals like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, according to Wigdor who represented as many as six women who accused Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual abuse. 

Why didn’t Newman take a financial settlement from Amazon and find a new job? TODAY cited Wigdor as saying that she refused settling it with Amazon since that would likely see a confidentiality clause stopping her from talking about her experience. He also said that Newman did not want to leave Amazon also because she wanted to see the company bringing in major changes in terms of hiring and diversity. 

'Newman wants to change from within'

“Ms. Newman wants to change from within and that’s why she’s still there,” Wigdor told TODAY. “She is going to try to create change that's why she wants to make this publicly known. She’s hoping that Amazon will make the changes needed as one of the largest companies in the world.”

In an interview with Recode recently, Newman said the discrimination started when she joined Amazon and the situation got worse over the past four years. “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 said in the interview. 

“At the very least, Amazon could have better safeguards in place to protect employees,” Newman said, adding: “A company of Amazon’s size should have clear guidelines about what happens if you report, hear what your rights are ... [and] ensure that once you report you don't have to be contacted by the person who harassed you.”

Recode spoke to 10 Black employees who said either they or someone they knew at Amazon had been recruited at a lower level than their qualifications justified - a practice called “down-leveling”.  

Amazon came up with an emailed statement saying: “Amazon works hard to foster a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture, and these allegations do not reflect those efforts or our values. We do not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind and thoroughly investigate all claims and take appropriate action. We are currently investigating the new allegations included in this lawsuit.”

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