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Home Depot punished staff for BLM activism, U.S. labor board alleges

A store's parking lot filled with cars off a two-way street are shown in an aerial view.
A Home Depot store in Lemon Grove, Calif.
(John Gibbins/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Home Depot Inc. used threats and punishments to try to shut down employee activism about race-based harassment, including by forcing out a worker who wore a “BLM” apron, according to a complaint issued by federal labor board prosecutors.

In an Aug. 12 filing on behalf of the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, a regional director of the agency accused the home-improvement retailer of selectively enforcing its dress code, which prohibits displaying “causes or political messages unrelated to workplace matters,” to target employees who wore “Black Lives Matter” apparel at work.

An employee who had been trying to address discrimination and harassment issues at a Minnesota facility, including by talking to co-workers and sending emails, was illegally suspended and forbidden from continuing the person’s activism, according to the complaint. Home Depot management also threatened employees in person and over a video call to prevent them from mounting protests against racial harassment, according to the filing, which was obtained by Bloomberg News via a Freedom of Information Act request.

Home Depot said in an emailed statement that the labor board “misrepresents the relevant facts” of the case, and that the company will share more with the agency as the case proceeds.

The recommendation is a blow to Amazon but isn’t a final decision. The battle to unionize at the Alabama warehouse was fiercely fought by both sides.

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“The Home Depot does not tolerate workplace harassment of any kind and takes all reports of discrimination or harassment seriously, as we did in this case,” spokesperson Sara Gorman said. “Regardless of the outcome, we will continue to be fully committed to diversity and respect for all people.”

Like many big U.S. companies, Home Depot put out a statement following George Floyd’s murder committing to racial justice and equality. As of 2019, Black people made up 17% of the retailer’s U.S. based workforce — a larger share than the U.S. population. About a third of managers and a quarter of U.S.-based officers were “minorities,” according to a 2020 company report.

Federal law guarantees employees the right to participate in collective action regarding workplace matters. “Issues of racial harassment directly impact the working conditions of employees,” Jennifer Hadsall, the labor board regional director who issued the complaint, said in a statement Monday.

Absent a settlement, labor board complaints are heard by agency judges, whose rulings can be appealed to NLRB members in Washington D.C. The agency has no authority to make companies pay punitive damages for violating the law.

Bloomberg writer Jordyn Holman contributed to this report.


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