Women File Landmark Equal Pay Class Action Against Amazon

Outten & Golden LLP
November 20, 2023

Three Female Employees from Amazon’s Global Communications & Community Impact Organizations file First-Ever Equal Pay Class Action against the Company, Accusing the Tech Giant of Pay Inequity, Harassment and Retaliation

SEATTLE, WA – A new class action lawsuit was filed against Amazon today by multiple women who claim that the technology giant systematically underpays female employees and subjects them to a hostile work environment.

The plaintiffs include three female members of Amazon’s Research & Strategy team, within the company’s Global Communications & Community Impact organization. The women allege that, after they reported chronic underpayment of women and mistreatment relative to their male colleagues, Amazon retaliated against them, rather than fixing the problems.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the Western District of Washington State, is the first-ever equal pay class action suit against the company. Specifically, it alleges that Amazon violated the Federal Equal Pay Act, Washington equal pay and discrimination laws, and both Washington and Federal Family and Medical Leave Acts.

The complaint alleges that, across the company, Amazon has a pattern and practice of assigning employees’ job codes and levels discriminatorily, giving preference to men, resulting in Amazon paying women less than their male peers who perform equal work, and giving fewer career opportunities for women. Upon reporting the pay discrepancies to their managers and HR, the plaintiffs allege that they were demoted to lesser roles, had their direct reports and key projects removed, received lower performance ratings, and had their stock and compensation reduced.

“No one should be subjected to mistreatment simply for advocating for themselves in the workplace,” said Caroline Wilmuth, one of the three plaintiffs in the new lawsuit. “When I discovered that I was being paid significantly less than men on my team, it stunned and devastated me. Amazon then made it worse after I complained by taking away the team that I founded and built from scratch – and demoting me to a position that had much less career advancement opportunity.”

Ms. Wilmuth started her career at Amazon in 2017, when she was hired as a General Marketing Manager responsible for Amazon’s employer brand messaging and campaign strategy. With nearly 20 years of research experience, Ms. Wilmuth left the Employer Brand team to create the Research & Strategy team, therein taking on a director-level research position. Ms. Wilmuth soon began raising concerns about being under-leveled and misclassified into the wrong job code.

In 2022, one of Ms. Wilmuth’s direct reports, fellow Plaintiff Katherine Schomer, became aware of her misclassified job code and subsequent pay discrepancy when compared to another male colleague on the Research & Strategy team who was performing the same level of work and reporting to the same supervisor. Their different job codes resulted in Ms. Schomer being paid approximately 150% less than her similarly situated colleague.

Ms. Wilmuth and other women on her team, including Plaintiff Erin Combs, were also subjected to hostile treatment from a male Director of Amazon’s Reputational, Marketing & Insights (RMI) team. The complaint details how this individual repeatedly demeaned women, undermined their expertise and experience, overtly took credit for their work, and devalued their contributions.

“For years, many technology giants have paid well-qualified women less than they deserve and have retaliated when they’ve spoken up,” said Cassandra Lenning, partner at Outten & Golden LLP and attorney for the plaintiffs. “These women, who were all exceptional in their roles and had decades of experience, should be commended for their courageous efforts to shine a light on this issue.” Outten & Golden partner Jahan Sagafi, another lawyer for the plaintiffs, added, “Unfortunately, these women are representative of countless others who work hard to make their companies successful, only to be underpaid, underpromoted, and retaliated against for having the audacity to speak up.”

“That feeling of betrayal when you’ve committed yourself to your job, only to find out that you, and other women, haven’t been paid what you’re worth for years, it’s a feeling that will stay with me forever,” said Katherine Schomer, plaintiff in the new lawsuit. “Then, when you do speak up and try to solve the problem, you’re immediately silenced, stripped of any growth potential, and disrespected. This toxic behavior needs to end here.” Ms. Schomer is currently a Principal on the RMI team, where she was moved after Amazon stripped Ms. Wilmuth’s team from her.

The filing also alleges that Amazon continued to underpay these women after they, and several others, brought their pay disparity to the attention of Amazon, which instead, subjected them to discriminatory treatment where their expertise, work and contributions were undermined and minimized.

Erin Combs, who is a Principal on the RMI team andanother plaintiff in the lawsuit, alleges that she similarly faced hostile treatment from male superiors. When Ms. Combs escalated concerns to her management and HR that a male superior was taking credit for her work and treating her in an insulting and condescending manner, Amazon did nothing to address the mistreatment. Ms. Combs subsequently filed a complaint with Employee Relations and soon thereafter was stripped of her leadership position and the majority of her work.

“When I spoke to HR, I told them I was “terrified” about working with or having to report to this individual; I didn’t feel I was in a safe environment. Weeks later, I was moved to report to his team and demoted in the process,” said Erin Combs, plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Months later, Amazon’s investigation concluded and found nothing to support our experiences. The investigation felt like a complete sham. I can’t describe what a helpless feeling it is to take all the right steps, succeed at your job, and still have your employer refuse to protect you. You feel powerless.”

Caroline Wilmuth, Katherine Schomer, and Erin Combs are all represented by Cassandra W. Lenning, Jahan C. Sagafi, Menaka N. Fernando, Michael Danna, and Lindsay M. Goldbrum of Outten & Golden LLP.