Cheddi Skeete says he was fired from Amazon Prime Air, the company’s drone delivery business, less than two years after he started working there as a manager. Skeete claims he was fired because he raised drone safety concerns.
Shortly after joining Amazon Prime Air, the online retailer’s drone delivery business, Skeete noticed that some parts of Amazon’s drone delivery business were not quite right.
According to Skeete, there was no onboarding process for new employees, there was no bathroom at one of the field sites, and there were many delivery drone crashes.
Skeete worked as a drone program manager for less than two years at Amazon Prime. During that time, he says he was passed over for promotions and then fired in March after he voiced concerns about drone safety at Amazon Prime Air.
Skeete is now suing his former employer in King County Superior Court in Seattle, nearly a year after he was fired. Skeete claims that Amazon discriminated against him because he is black and that he was retaliated against for raising safety concerns about the drone program through his attorneys.
“I care deeply about equal opportunity in the workplace, as well as the safety of Amazon’s workers and the surrounding communities,” Skeete said in a statement according to The Bulletin. “I hope that this lawsuit not only holds Amazon accountable for my injuries but also encourages and forces them to take safety more seriously as they develop their drone program.”
Amazon stated in a statement released on Friday that “these allegations are false, and we look forward to proving that in court.” The retailers did not respond to any questions or inquiries regarding the particular claims.
Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon is famous for having predicted in 2013 that drone deliveries would become commonplace within the next five years. But it looks like delivering packages from Amazon warehouses to customers by drone is going to be a lot harder than Bezos first thought.
At first, everything appeared to be straightforward. Within thirty minutes or less, Amazon drones would deliver to customers’ homes any household items sold by the company that weigh less than five pounds. After arriving at their backyards, the drones would hover for a moment before dropping off the package and taking off again.
According to internal documents, government reports, and interviews with 13 current and former employees, including Skeete, a Bloomberg investigation concluded in April 2022 that the Amazon Prime Air program was plagued by technical challenges, high turnover, and safety concerns.
According to a report by Bloomberg, a crash involving a delivery drone that took place in June prompted federal regulators to raise concerns about the unmanned aircraft’s ability to safely fly. Amazon’s delivery drones are relatively large aircraft, weighing in at around 80 pounds and measuring more than 5 feet across. They also have six motors, making them quite powerful.
Drone safety concerns at Amazon Prime Air
Last year, Amazon Prime Air started its delivery drone pilot program in Lockeford, California, after developing more than a dozen delivery drone prototypes.
In June of 2020, Skeete started working at the headquarters of the team located in Pendleton, Oregon.
According to what was written in the lawsuit against Amazon, Skeete “was shocked to learn about the lack of safety protocols in drone testing.”
During the approximately two years that he worked there, several drones went down, including one that started a brush fire that covered 25 acres.
Skeete stated that Amazon Prime Air started checking the motors on the drones in October 2020, after there were so many delivery drone crashes that Amazon halted operations. The motors on the drones are one possible source of the malfunctions. However, after a little less than two weeks had passed, the unmanned aircraft were once again flying.
Skeete recalled expressing his concerns to the company at the time. According to him, conducting checks on 180 motors in such a short amount of time was physically impossible. According to the lawsuit, another drone was involved in an accident the following month.
In December, drones experienced technical difficulties and crashed at locations in Pendleton and Seattle, respectively. Skeete claimed that around the same time, Amazon began placing restrictions on its employees’ ability to access flight-related information, videos, and pictures. In court papers, Skeete’s lawyers called it “leadership decided against transparency.”
Out of the 67 drone program managers at Amazon Prime Air, Skeete was one of only two black employees. He felt that he was placed at the incorrect level and underpaid on a consistent basis.
Skeete made three separate attempts to get in touch with the human resources department to lodge complaints of discrimination and retaliation, as well as to report safety concerns regarding drone testing and potential violations of rules established by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Skeete was informed at a later time by a worker in HR that some of his complaints had been “accidentally deleted.”
According to the allegations made in the lawsuit, one month later, Amazon informed Skeete that his complaints were unfounded, and on the same day, the company terminated his employment.
Skeete is asking the court for compensation for lost earnings, along with damages for emotional distress and compensation for Legal fees.
Let us know in the comments below what you think about the drone safety concerns at Amazon Prime Air and drone deliveries in general. We are curious to hear your thoughts.
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