Whole Foods Employees Sue Company For Not Being Allowed To Wear ‘Black Lives Matter’ Masks At Work

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2020/07/21/whole-foods-employees-sue-company-for-not-being-allowed-to-wear-black-lives-matter-masks-at-work/

Nine current and former employees of Whole Foods stores in Cambridge are among 14 suing the company nationwide for not allowing them to wear Black Lives Matter masks and other clothing while on the job.

The plaintiffs are claiming that the supermarket company’s “selective enforcement of its dress code policy” violates the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.  They are seeking emotional and punitive damages, among other things.

“Whole Foods’ selective enforcement of its dress code in disciplining employees who wear apparel expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement constitutes unlawful discrimination on the basis of race and on the basis of employees’ affiliation with and advocacy for Black employees,” states a civil complaint filed Monday, July 20 in U.S. District Court in Boston.

The complaint seeks to broaden the case from the 14 specific plaintiffs to a class action lawsuit “on behalf of all other similarly situated.”

Whole Foods, headquartered in Austin, Texas, is owned by Amazon, which is headquartered in Seattle, Washington. Amazon is owned by Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post.

Amazon, the parent company, ran a Black Lives Matter banner on its web site in June. On June 9, the company announced it would give $10 million to 12 left-wing groups, including Black Lives Matter.

Whole Foods has a policy prohibiting employees “from wearing clothing with visible slogans, messages, logos, or advertising that are not company-related,” the complaint states, but the policy has been “generally unenforced” until recently. Employees have been tacitly allowed to wear clothing supporting local sports teams or homosexuality-affirming themes, according to the complaint.

“Employees have commonly worn Pride flags in support of their LGBTQ+ coworkers without being disciplined by Whole Foods. Employees have not been sent home or received discipline for wearing Pride pins or apparel,” the complaint states.

Since employees started wearing masks at work because of the coronavirus emergency, one worker in Bedford, New Hampshire sported a SpongeBob SquarePants image without being disciplined, the complaint states. Others have worn masks identifying vegetables or displaying prints.

Around early June, after George Floyd, a black man, died May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the hands of a white police officer while in custody, some Whole Foods employees started wearing masks supporting Black Lives Matter, which has spearheaded protests against police and what members call “systemic racism.”

“Plaintiffs and other Whole Foods employees expected Whole Foods would support their decision to wear these masks because Whole Foods has expressed support for inclusivity and equality and because it previously allowed its employees to express support for their LGBTQ+ coworkers through their apparel without discipline,” the complaint states.

According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, Whole Foods sent home employees who wore Black Lives Matter masks without paying them for the time spent away from the supermarket and disciplined those who resisted.

One plaintiff, Savannah Kinzer, of Boston, was fired from the Cambridge store on River Street on Saturday, July 18 – two days before the complaint was filed.

The plaintiffs’ complaint says Kinzer was fired “in retaliation for wearing a Black Lives Matter mask, opposing racism in the workplace, and organizing her coworkers to wear the masks and protest Whole Foods’ discriminatory and retaliatory policy.” The company says Kinzer was fired “for repeatedly violating our time and attendance policy 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,” according to The Boston Globe.

The company has responded to the lawsuit, according to multiple media reports, by saying that its policy prohibiting employees from wearing clothing with slogans keeps the focus on customer service and that no employees have been fired for wearing Black Lives Matter gear.

Of the plaintiffs, six work or have worked at the Whole Foods store on River Street in Cambridge. Three work at the Whole Foods store on Alewife Brook Parkway in Cambridge. Three work at a store in Bedford, New Hampshire.

One plaintiff works at a store in Seattle, Washington and another works at a store in Berkeley, California.

The employees’ lawyer is Shannon Liss-Riordan, a labor lawyer who recently ran for U.S. Senate in the Democratic primary in Massachusetts against incumbent Ed Markey before dropping out in January, four months after U.S. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III entered the race.


A box on the homepage of the Whole Foods web site proclaims the company’s stand against racism. Screenshot taken Tuesday, July 20, 2020.