Amazon delivery drivers are suing Amazon because they say they have to pee in bottles and defecate in dog-waste bags, an “inhumane” consequence of the company’s delivery performance requirements, according to a class action lawsuit filed in Colorado on Monday.
The lawsuit, which currently has three Amazon drivers as its plaintiffs, claims that Amazon’s performance metrics for how many deliveries a driver must make per day are unachievable if the driver takes any time away from their route to rest or find a bathroom—and that drivers are penalized by the company if they fall behind on their deliveries.
“This case is about one of the wealthiest and most powerful companies in the world, Amazon, maintaining work policies that require its delivery drivers in Colorado to urinate in bottles in the back of delivery vans, defecate in bags, and, in many cases, to restrain themselves from using the bathroom at risk of serious health consequences,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit specifically addresses the problem of Amazon drivers not being able to pull off-course to use the bathroom, which Motherboard previously reported on extensively. It states that, “Near where Amazon delivery drivers finish their delivery shifts, trash cans are full of urine-filled bottles, as are trash cans at gas stations located near Amazon facilities,” and that “Amazon delivery vans frequently smell of urine because bottles full of urine often spill on the floor of the vehicle.”
One driver, Ryan Schilling, often had to pee in a bottle while on a route, the lawsuit says. In some cases, “he had the overwhelming urge to defecate and felt that he could not hold it until the end of his shift. Knowing that he would be punished if he slowed or went off course to access a bathroom, he defecated in the back of his vehicle in a dog-waste bag.”
“Plaintiff Schilling is a veteran of the Iraq War, who, during his service, had to work under difficult conditions that prevented him from accessing the bathroom,” the lawsuit states. “But he often found it more difficult to find time to take care of his basic human needs while working as an Amazon DSP driver in Colorado than he did while serving in active combat for the U.S. military.”
A second driver, Marco Granger-Rivera, has had to pee in a bottle “every day” while working for Amazon, the lawsuit says. “On a few occasions, while racing to perform deliveries and without easy access to a bottle or the ability to stop for long enough even to urinate in his van, Plaintiff Granger-Rivera has been on the verge of urinating and defecating in his pants.”
Leah Cross, a third plaintiff, has “typical female anatomy,” which makes it more difficult for her to pee in a bottle while on the job—the lawsuit claims that this violates Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act. “Amazon fails to provide its drivers with reasonable access to bathrooms, which has an illegal disparate impact on people with typical female anatomy,” it reads.
“When Plaintiff Cross began delivering for Amazon, she tried to find restrooms along her route,” the lawsuit describes. “But she quickly learned this was prohibited. She began receiving calls telling her that she was off course. Supervisors frequently asked, ‘Where are you?’ or ‘Are you lost?’” On one occasion, she told her supervisor that she needed to find a bathroom with female sanitary products—the supervisor “admonished her and told her not to break her route.”
Cross was also allegedly told to buy a Shewee, which is a plastic funnel designed to let people with female anatomy relieve themselves more easily when outdoors or traveling. She began to bring a small bag with her that contained “a female urination device, toilet paper, sanitary products, and waste disposal bags,” as well as a chance of clothing, “in case she was unable to urinate into a bottle and had an accident in her pants,” the lawsuit describes.
Amazon spokesperson Sam Stephenson told Motherboard in a statement, “We want to make it clear that we encourage our Delivery Service Partners to support their drivers. That includes giving drivers the time they need for breaks in between stops, providing a list within the Amazon Delivery app of nearby restroom facilities and gas stations, and building in time on routes to use the restroom or take longer breaks.”
Beyond the “inhumane” conditions created by Amazon’s delivery requirements, the lawsuit also alleges that Amazon broke Colorado wage law by not paying its drivers for their missed breaks.
“Amazon has intentionally and willfully implemented a policy whereby drivers, including Plaintiffs, are unable to take duty-free paid rest breaks, as required by Colorado law, and are then not paid for those missed rest breaks,” the lawsuit states. “Amazon has enforced this policy by imposing delivery standards and quotas that are virtually impossible to achieve if Amazon Drivers pause their work for more than a few minutes during their shifts.”
It claims this violates the Colorado Wage Claim and Minimum Wage Acts, and that Amazon’s failure to pay its drivers properly amounts to civil theft.
Shelby Leighton, a lawyer at Public Justice who is working on the case, said the primary goal of the lawsuit was to get Amazon to change its delivery practices.
“The number one thing is a change in their practice so that they start allowing their workers to have access to the bathrooms when they need it,” she said. “We've also made a claim for the wages that the workers are owed from not being allowed to take breaks and not getting paid for missing their breaks. Then, there's also the discrimination claim, for damages, for the indignity, and the stress and other noneconomic damages that are caused by having to pee your pants at work or poop in the back of the van.”
Amazon spokesperson Maria Boschetti told Motherboard in a previous statement in October that, “We actively communicate and remind drivers that it’s important for them to take their breaks. Delivery drivers have two 15-minute breaks and one 30-minute break each day, and they also receive in-app notifications every two hours if they have not taken a break. Drivers can also conveniently see locations of available restrooms on the map in the app.”
Boschetti continued, “We partner with our [delivery service partners] to set realistic expectations that do not place undue pressure on them or their drivers while still fulfilling customer expectations.” She said that in states where breaks are enforced, like Colorado, the app prevents the driver from continuing their route until they’ve taken a break.
The lawsuit states that Amazon’s delivery service partners (DSPs) are “independent in name only,” and that, “Amazon’s contracts with each DSP dictate that the DSP must meet certain delivery quotas for the company.” Motherboard has previously reported on how Amazon shifts responsibility onto the DSP, despite controlling most—if not all—of its activity.
This is a proposed class action lawsuit, which means the three drivers have agreed to represent a class of drivers against Amazon, but that the lawsuit needs to be approved as a class action by a court, Leighton said. Once the lawsuit is approved, there will be two classes of drivers eligible in Colorado: anyone who has delivered for Amazon in the past six years, and anyone with “typical female anatomy” who delivers for Amazon.
Amazon will then be given a chance to respond—or ask the court to dismiss the case. Leighton said that she couldn’t predict Amazon’s actions, but that based on its legal team’s prior litigation, it was “likely to aggressively defend” against the class action.
“We have been really concerned about this issue of bathroom breaks for workers in a number of contexts,” Leighton said in relation to her work at Public Justice, which was involved in defending workers during Amazon’s JFK8 unionization on Staten Island. “Warehouse workers, meatpacking workers, farm workers—across a variety of jobs, this is a really big barrier to having a workplace where they’re treated like humans and are treated with dignity. And so when we learned about Amazon's delivery driver practices, it was something we were really interested in getting involved with and challenging.”