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Housekeeper's claims that Jeff Bezos made staff go 'without rest or meal breaks' are without merit, his lawyer says

Domestic employees were told "to work around a family without being seen" and didn't have easy access to bathrooms, according to civil complaint filed in Washington state.
Jeff Bezos in Glasgow, Scotland on Nov. 1, 2021.
Jeff Bezos in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 1, 2021. Raphael Lafargue / Sipa USA via AP file

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos subjected housekeepers to "unsafe and unsanitary" conditions, barring them from rest breaks and easy access to bathrooms, a lawsuit filed in Seattle this week alleges.

The civil action by Mercedes Wedaa also accused Bezos' subordinates of racial discrimination against Hispanic houseworkers in favor of their white counterparts.

Bezos and two companies that are alleged to manage his properties, Zefram LLC and Northwestern LLC, are named as defendants in the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in King County Superior Court.

"Employers discriminated against Plaintiff because of her race, forced Plaintiff to work long hours without rest or meal breaks, exposed Plaintiff to unsafe and unsanitary work conditions, retaliated against and wrongfully terminated Plaintiff’s employment," according to the lawsuit filed by Patrick McGuigan, an attorney for Wedaa.

A source at Northwestern LLC disputed the claims, calling the suit "a money grab."

Wedaa was hired in fall 2019 for a housekeeping job that required her "to work around a family without being seen," the civil action says.

She was hired as house coordinator and would eventually come to supervise a staff of housekeepers, nearly all of whom were Hispanic, according to the complaint.

In addition to extended work shifts as long as 14 hours with no breaks, there was "no reasonably accessible bathroom for the housekeepers," the lawsuit says.

At one point, housekeepers were told to use a restroom attached to a security room where guards monitored security cameras on the property, the suit claims. However, that was soon stopped "because it was decided that housekeepers using the bathroom was a breach of security protocol," according to the action.

"For about 18 months, in order to use a bathroom, Plaintiff and other housekeepers were forced to climb out the laundry room window to the outside," the lawsuit claims. "Then, run along the path to the mechanical room, through the mechanical room and downstairs to a bathroom. This toilet was used by both men and women, for example grounds staff used it too."

The lawsuit later claimed that housekeepers "frequently developed Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)" because they did not have easy access to restrooms.

The Northwestern LLC source said staff members had access to two areas that served as break rooms that include seating, tables, stocked refrigerators, a coffee machine and snacks. 

Multiple bathrooms are available to staff members near the break rooms, the source said, adding that when clients were not in residence, the staff also used the family kitchen and other family amenities.

An attorney for Bezos also disputed the allegations. "We have investigated the claims, and they lack merit," Bezos' attorney Harry Korrell said in a statement Thursday.

"Ms. Wedaa made over six figures annually and was the lead housekeeper. She was responsible for her own break and meal times, and there were several bathrooms and breakrooms available to her and other staff."

Wedaa did not name a dollar amount she is seeking in the lawsuit; Korrell said she asked for a $9 million settlement in lieu of filing the suit.

The suit alleges that Bezos’ house and assistant house managers of treating her and “the other Hispanic housekeepers who were hired differently from Caucasian employees.”

"They mocked and ridiculed" Wedaa but "did not treat the only white housekeeper" in such a manner, according to the action.

"The evidence will show that Ms. Wedaa was terminated for performance reasons," Korrell said. "Given their backgrounds, the suggestion that Mr. Bezos, Ms. Sanchez, or Northwestern LLC discriminated against Ms. Wedaa based on her race or national origin is absurd."

Bezos' girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, is Mexican American.

With a net worth of about $113 billion, Bezos is the world's fourth richest man, according to Forbes magazine.