Whole Foods employees are suing the Amazon-owned chain, claiming its management punished workers for wearing Black Lives Matter face coverings.
While Whole Foods has allowed its employees to wear colorful, personalized face coverings since the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping the United States, the company has not shown tolerance for politically-minded expression. Workers have allegedly faced discipline, intimidation, and retaliation for showcasing their support of Black Lives Matter on the job.
“Whole Foods employees across the country have been prohibited from wearing Black Lives Matter masks and other related apparel at work,” the lawsuit states.
Savannah Kinzer, a former Whole Foods employee involved in the suit, said she was fired for wearing a Black Lives Matter mask at work.
Whole Foods, however, has claimed that Kinzer violated the company’s time and attendance policies “by not working her assigned shifts, reporting late for work multiple times in the past nine days and choosing to leave during her scheduled shifts.”
In response to the lawsuit, the Tribune has said that employees “must comply with our longstanding company dress code, which prohibits any visible slogans, messages, logos or advertising that are not company-related on any article of clothing.”
But Whole Foods employees say that the company’s policy is selectively enforced—the company has allegedly been lenient in allowing workers to broadcast their support for LGBTQ rights, or affinity for particular sports teams and athletes.
Shannon LIss-Riordan, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told the New York Times her clients’ request is simple.
“We are asking that the court order Whole Foods to allow the employees to wear Black Lives Matter masks and other apparel at work,” she told the Times in an e-mail.
Liss-Riordan also called Whole Foods’ actions are “shameful.”
“The actions of Whole Foods against its employees are not only illegal but shameful,” Liss-Riordan said in a statement, explaining that the company has “selectively and arbitrarily” invoked its dress code against workers showing support for Black Lives Matter.
The Tribune notes that the lawsuit’s 14 plaintiffs work in stores across the country, including locations in Massachusetts, California, and Seattle.
Whole Foods has maintained that it has no specific qualm with Black Lives Matter, and has said that it enforces its dress code consistently and fairly.
“While we cannot comment on pending litigation, it is critical to clarify that no team members have been terminated for wearing Black Lives Matter face masks or apparel,” the company said in a statement. “We have zero tolerance for retaliation at Whole Foods Market.
“We recognize, respect, and take steps to ensure we do not impinge on employees’ legal rights.”