(Bloomberg Law) -- Amazon.com Inc. pays women less than male employees performing the same or comparable work, a class lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Seattle charges.

The lawsuit also alleges that female employees experience systemic discrimination in promotions based on sex and that Amazon retaliates against those who complain about the bias. It was filed in the US District Court for the Western District of Washington by Caroline Wilmuth, Katherine Schomer, and Erin Combs, who seek to represent “all women who worked for Amazon in a Covered Position at any time from three years before the filing” of the suit and when the allegations are resolved.

“We do expect that there will be many others signing on, we have already spoken to numerous other women,” Cassandra Lenning, a partner at Outten & Golden LLP, which represents the proposed class said on Monday. “We do have some witness affidavits already and we expect that after filing this, other women will come forward.”

The pay bias typically begins at the hiring stage, as Amazon uses “common compensation-setting policies across its organization” that assigns workers to various “job codes” based on job function, the suit says. Amazon considers a worker’s past compensation history in determining their job code, and it “regularly assigns women to lower job codes for the same job functions as comparable male employees,” according to the suit.

That starting pay bias perpetuates and deepens, as an “employee’s job code largely determines their base salary, bonuses, stock awards, and other compensation,” and “Amazon additionally regularly fails to advance women to higher job codes,” the suit says.

Even where female and male workers doing equal work are assigned to the same job code, the company “nonetheless regularly pays women lower salaries and/or stock awards than men,” the suit says.

Company Denies ‘False’ Claims

“We believe these claims are false and will demonstrate that through the legal process,” Brad Glasser, an Amazon spokesperson, said Monday in an email.

The company doesn’t tolerate workplace bias of any kind, Glasser said. Amazon instead investigates all reported incidents and takes appropriate action when an employee is found to have violated company policy, up to and including termination, he said.

Amazon also annually inspects its pay equity data, and a 2022 review showed that “women globally and in the U.S. earned 99.6 cents and 99.5 cents, respectively, for every dollar that men earned performing the same jobs,” he said.

Individual Claims, Too

Wilmuth, Schomer, and Combs have all experienced pay discrimination as a result of the job coding, as well as other sex bias during their Amazon tenures, according to the suit.

That includes paying Wilmuth nearly $200,000 less than a male subordinate, and a male supervisor “taking credit for” Wilmuth’s and Combs’ work, the suit says.

The unequal pay has continued even after the women and others “brought the pay disparity to Amazon’s attention,” the suit says.

Wilmuth, Schomer, and Combs were all demoted within weeks of complaining about the sex discrimination, and Amazon continues to discriminate and retaliate against them, according to the suit. That includes after they each returned from medical leaves needed by the physical and mental toll of the pay and other discrimination, the suit says.

The complaint includes class and individual claims under the Equal Pay Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, Washington’s Law Against Discrimination, the Washington Equal Pay and Opportunities Act, and the Washington Family and Medical Leave Act.

The relief requested includes back pay with prejudgment interest, emotional distress damages, and double or exemplary damages under the Washington EPOA. It also includes pre- and post-judgment interest, service payments for the class representatives, attorneys’ fees and costs, and monetary relief for any adverse tax consequences of the damages awards.

The case is Wilmuth v. Amazon.com, Inc., W.D. Wash., No. 2:23-cv-01774, class complaint 11/20/23.

To contact the reporters on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bloombergindustry.com; Kelsey Butler (Bloomberg News) at kbutler55@bloomberg.net; Matt Day (Bloomberg News) at mday63@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Carmen Castro-Pagán at ccastro-pagan@bloomberglaw.com

(Story updated to add comment from the women’s attorneys in the third paragraph)

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