It hasn’t even been two months since Amazon CEO Andy Jassy took the reins from founder Jeff Bezos, but the company’s new chief executive is already facing a potential scandal. Two anonymous sources have accused Jassy of stepping in to overrule the company’s own HR department when it recommended that an executive be fired for discrimination — and Amazon didn’t initially deny it, reports Protocol. Amazon is now suggesting to The Verge that it’s not true, a day after we first published this post.
The story goes that in 2019, a Black female Amazon employee accused AWS Outposts general manager Joshua Burgin of discrimination, and HR issued a report recommending he be fired. But Jassy fielded a personal request from Burgin’s boss, Charlie Bell, and decided to let him stay. (At the time, Jassy was CEO of AWS, Bell was a star cloud executive who also reportedly served as a member of Amazon’s senior leadership team, and Burgin was Bell’s chief of staff. Bell recently moved to Microsoft.)
Protocol writes that when it presented Amazon with “a detailed account of the events,” the company didn’t dispute it: “In this instance, we conducted a thorough investigation and took what we believe was the appropriate corrective action,” the company wrote.
Amazon initially told The Verge it didn’t have anything to share beyond that non-denial statement, but on Thursday it came out with a partial denial after all: “The suggestion that Andy overruled a recommendation provided to him in this case is not correct,” a company spokesperson tells The Verge. “As with any disciplinary decision, as more data was presented and discussions continued, opinions on the appropriate course of action evolved. The final recommendation was the one ultimately pursued.”
Amazon declined to provide a copy of that final recommendation for us to verify, and wouldn’t tell us whether Jassy might have been involved in crafting that final recommendation himself.
Amazon’s partial denial arrived a day after we originally published this story under the headline “Amazon isn’t denying its CEO saved an exec from being fired for discrimination.”
In July, Amazon pledged to investigate allegations of discrimination and harassment inside its AWS unit after 550 Amazon workers signed a petition accusing the company of fostering an “underlying culture of systemic discrimination, harassment, bullying, and bias against women and under-represented groups.” Five specific female Amazon employees also sued the company for discrimination in May, three of whom still worked for Amazon at the time. It’s not clear whether the worker who accused Burgin — and by association, Jassy — is one of those five, but Protocol suggests she’s suing as well.
Update September 2nd, 3:44PM ET: Added Amazon’s denial, a day after Amazon declined to deny the story to both Protocol and The Verge.