Employees of Whole Foods have filed a class action lawsuit against the supermarket for race discrimination and retaliation after they were allegedly disciplined for wearing masks supporting the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement. While Whole Foods—owned by Amazon—has always had a corporate policy forbidding workers from wearing slogans or logos that are not company-related, the workers allege that this policy was not enforced until many employees began wearing BLM slogans at work. The lawsuit seeks reimbursement for lost wages and expungement of any disciplinary action for the disciplined workers. It also seeks permanent injunctive relief for all employees, calling for Whole Foods to end its policy of not allowing BLM masks at work.
According to the complaint filed in Massachusetts District Court by fifteen workers across five stores, Whole Foods disciplined about 40 employees and fired one employee—Savannah Kinzer—for wearing BLM masks or slogans at work. Employees were sent home or threatened with termination when they wore their BLM masks. Others were written up or placed on a “corrective action pathway,” which requires employees to re-train. Kinzer, in particular, had also organized workers to wear BLM masks. When workers were disciplined, she filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission but was fired within an hour of informing her manager of the complaints. Whole Food maintains that Kinzer’s termination has no relation to her wearing BLM masks and was due to her repeated violations of Whole Food’s Time & Attendance policy.
The suit alleges that no employees have previously been disciplined for wearing non-work-related slogans, including employees who have worn pins supporting the LGBTQ movement and one employee who wore a pin that said, “Lock him up.” The workers and their lawyers argue that disciplining employees who wear BLM slogans constitutes discrimination against Black employees and other employees who support their Black coworkers.
This lawsuit comes at a time when many companies have broadened their dress code policy to allow workers to wear BLM apparel at work, including Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell. Meanwhile, an independent federal agency called the Office of Special Counsel found that federal employees may express support for the BLM Movement in the workplace without violating the Hatch Act, which restricts political activity by government employees, because the term BLM does not amount to “inherently political activity.”
Bryan Schwartz Law has written about the Black Lives Matter Movement, race discrimination, and retaliation many times before. If you believe you were discriminated against or retaliated against at work, please contact Bryan Schwartz Law today.