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Whole Foods sued for banning workers’ Black Lives Matter masks

Protester wearing mask with the words "Black Lives Matter"
Ryan Darsey wears a mask with the words “Black Lives Matter” during a peaceful protest in front of the police department in La Mesa, Calif.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Whole Foods workers in California, Massachusetts and other states have sued the upscale supermarket chain, alleging that the company discriminated against its employees when it barred them from wearing Black Lives Matter masks while on the job.

Whole Foods Market disciplined, intimidated and retaliated against workers who were showing their solidarity with the racial justice movement and its resurgence of support following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, according to the federal lawsuit, which was filed Monday in Boston.

Store managers cited the company dress code, which prohibits slogans or logos not affiliated with the company, as the reason for prohibiting Black Lives Matter messages. In a statement, Whole Foods said that its 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 the plaintiffs say the company has allowed other messages on workers’ attire, including rainbow pins and flags in support of LGBTQ rights, and sports team names and logos.

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“The actions of Whole Foods against its employees are not only illegal but shameful,” Shannon Liss-Riordan, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

Whole Foods “selectively and arbitrarily” enforced the dress code to specifically suppress the Black Lives Matter message, she said.

Janitors, fast-food workers, nursing home employees and gig-economy drivers, many of them Black and Latino, rallied across the nation Monday in union-organized protests to align with the Black Lives Matter movement that has emerged as a powerful global force for racial justice.

The 14 plaintiffs work at stores in Berkeley, Calif.; Cambridge, Mass.; Bedford, N.H.; and Seattle. More plaintiffs are expected to join the action.

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Savannah Kinzer, one of the plaintiffs, said she was fired from the Cambridge store for wearing a Black Lives Matter mask.

The complaint requests an immediate injunction against employee retaliation and termination, as well as compensatory damages and back pay.

In an emailed statement, Whole Foods said it could not comment on pending litigation and said it did not fire Kinzer — or anyone else — for wearing a Black Lives Matter mask, but instead for not working her assigned shifts.

The company does not tolerate retaliation, the statement said. “We recognize, respect, and take steps to ensure we do not impinge on employees’ legal rights,” the statement said.


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