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Verdicts & Settlements

Judge Dismisses Whole Foods Employees’ “Black Lives Matter” Apparel Lawsuit

— January 24, 2023

In her ruling, the Boston-based federal judge found that Whole Foods had fairly and uniformly enforced a dress code prohibiting apparel bearing slogans, logos, and advertisements.

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by three former Whole Foods employees who claim that they were illegally fired for opposing the company’s policy of disciplining workers who wore “Black Lives Matter” face masks.

According to Reuters, U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs of Boston found little evidence to refute Whole Foods’ “legitimate business explanations” for enforcing a restrictive dress code.

In her ruling, Burroughs said there was no “significant evidence” suggesting that Whole Foods had intentionally or overtly discriminated against the terminated employees.

“The evidence demonstrates only that Whole Foods did not strenuously enforce the dress code policy until mid-2020, and that when it increased enforcement, it did so uniformly,” Burroughs wrote in a 28-page decision.

“This holding is not about the importance of the Black Lives Matter message, the value of plaintiffs’ advocacy in wearing the masks, the valor of their speaking out against what they perceived to be discrimination in their workplace, or the quality of Whole Foods’ decision-making,” Burroughs added.

The initial lawsuit was supported, in part, by the National Labor Relations Board, which said that Whole Foods’ dress code violated federal law.

Federal law, notes The Hill, permits workers to take part in “concerted activities for their mutual aid and protection.”

Black Lives Matter graffiti in Portland, OR. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user:Another Believer. (CCA-BY-4.0).

However, attorneys for Whole Foods alleged that the National Labor Relations Board appeared to be privileging political statements related to the Black Lives Matter movement over others.

“[The] General Counsel seeks to compel employer speech by [Whole Foods] in violation of [Whole Foods’] rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and enforcement of any Order from the [NLRB] to compel such speech would violate the Constitution,” Whole Foods wrote in a brief.

Whole Foods, writes Reuters, had earlier argued that it adopted a dress code restricting the display of visible slogans, logos, and advertisements to foster a welcoming and safe environment for employees and patrons alike.

In her ruling, Burroughs said that none of the three plaintiffs could claim they were illegally retaliated against under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Reuters reports that, in June, a federal appeals court in Boston uphold Burroughs’ initial ruling dismissing a proposed class action over Whole Foods’ purportedly discriminatory dress code.

The initial claim was filed by three Whole Foods employees who were employed at different stores in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California, respectively.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs have yet to provide a detailed statement on the dismissal to the media.


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