• A group of 14 Whole Foods workers have filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that the company discriminated and retaliated against employees who wore Black Lives Matter masks.
  • Whole Foods’ “selective enforcement” of its dress code “constitutes unlawful discrimination on the basis of race and on the basis of employees’ affiliation with and advocacy for Black employees,” the suit claims.
  • Whole Foods said it can’t comment on pending litigation, but denied that any employees have been terminated for wearing Black Lives Matter gear. The company also said it has zero tolerance for retaliation.
  • “It is critical to clarify that no Team Members have been terminated for wearing Black Lives Matter face masks or apparel,” a Whole Foods spokesperson said. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Whole Foods workers have filed a class-action lawsuit claiming the company discriminated and retaliated against employees who wore Black Lives Matter masks.

The federal suit was filed Monday by 14 employees of stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Washington.

The lawsuit claims Whole Foods managers have prohibited workers from wearing the masks and in some cases disciplined them by sending them home without pay or threatening them with termination. 

“Although Whole Foods had not previously strictly enforced its dress code policy (and had not disciplined employees for wearing other messages, including political messages), the company began sending employees home without pay for wearing Black Lives Matters masks,” the lawsuit states. “Whole Foods has threatened employees with termination if they continue wearing the masks.”

The suit also claims employees have “commonly worn Pride flags in support of their LGBTQ+ coworkers without being disciplined by Whole Foods.”

Whole Foods’ “selective enforcement” of its dress code “constitutes unlawful discrimination on the basis of race and on the basis of employees’ affiliation with and advocacy for Black employees,” the suit claims.

The lawsuit demands an immediate injunction against the alleged employee retaliation and termination, as well as compensatory damages and back pay. The plaintiffs have also filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Whole Foods interfered with their right to engage in an effort to improve conditions in their workplace.

Among the plaintiffs is Savannah Kinzer, who said she was fired from the Cambridge, Massachusetts, Whole Foods on Saturday for wearing a Black Lives Matter mask to work.

“In addition to being discriminatory, Whole Foods’ policy on Black Lives Matter facemasks is hypocritical,” Kinzer said in a statement. “Whole Foods states prominently on its website and on signs in its stores that ‘Racism has no place here,’ but won’t allow employees to express solidarity with Black lives.” 

Whole Foods says no employees have been fired for wearing Black Lives Matter gear

Whole Foods said it can’t comment on pending litigation, but denied that any employees — including Kinzer — have been terminated for wearing Black Lives Matter gear. 

“It is critical to clarify that no Team Members have been terminated for wearing Black Lives Matter face masks or apparel,” a Whole Foods spokesperson said. “Savannah Kinzer was separated from the company 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.

“It is simply untrue that she was separated from the company for wearing a Black Lives Matter face mask. As an employer, we must uphold our policies in an equitable and consistent manner. Savannah had full understanding of our policies and was given a number of opportunities to comply.”

Whole Foods’ dress code policy bars employees from wearing clothing with visible slogans, messages, logos, or advertising that are not company-related.

The company’s spokesperson said Whole Foods has zero tolerance for retaliation and takes steps to ensure it does not impinge on employees’ legal rights. Any employee who violates company policy is subject to disciplinary action, the company said.

Workers were asked to remove ‘racism has no place here’ shirts, employee said

A Connecticut Whole Foods employee, Graham Johnson, recently told Business Insider that her store prohibited a group of its employees from wearing shirts printed with the phrase “racism has no place here.”

When employees showed up to work wearing the shirts, management at the Milford, Connecticut, Whole Foods told them they had violated the company’s dress code and gave them three choices: They could turn their shirts inside out, change shirts entirely, or go home, said Johnson, who is not among the lawsuit’s plaintiffs.

“The actions of Whole Foods against its employees are not only illegal but shameful,” said Shannon Liss-Riordan, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs who filed the class-action lawsuit. “These essential workers have been asked to put their health at risk during this pandemic, and they have done so. Whole Foods’ decision to selectively and arbitrarily enforce it’s ‘dress code’ to specifically suppress the message that Black Lives Matter paints a picture about what the company values and that picture is not pretty.”

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