Beginning in June, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, the international grocery store chain began “disciplining, harassing, [and] intimidating” those who wore face coverings referencing the movement, which has gained prominence in the wake of the George Floyd protests. In some cases, employees were sent home without pay. In others, they were given “corrective counseling.” And in other instances, they were fired.
For example, as CNN Business reported at the time, seven associates at the chain’s Cambridge, Massachusetts store posted photos on Twitter showing a walkout after being told they couldn’t wear masks or pins that reference BLM. You can see one of those tweets here.
“They care about the business their racist customers give them more than spreading a peaceful yet important message.”
Similarly, in Bedford, New Hampshire, as The Concord Monitor reported at the time, Lylah Styles and Kayla Greene said they were sent home for wearing BLM coverings, even after having worn them for the previous two days prior to being disciplined. Further, they claimed that they were not shown anything in company policy that forbade the garments until they were sent home for wearing them. The women said the situation was handled poorly and unprofessionally.
The matter of Whole Foods managers disciplining associates for displaying BLM-related regalia appears to not have been limited to Cambridge and Bedford, however. In the suit, workers from Berkeley, California, and Seattle, Washington allege similar incidents at their locations.
Store managers noted that the employee dress code expressly prohibits clothing or other regalia with slogans or logos not affiliated with the grocer.
In the lawsuit, the associates claim that the grocer’s actions violate the Civil Rights Act prohibitions on discrimination and retaliation.
“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,” said Savannah Kinzer, a plaintiff in the case, who has herself been fired for having worn a BLM mask.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction that would prevent the business from disciplining workers in the future for using such coverings, as well as unspecified compensatory damages and back pay for those who had been fired.
Whole Foods issued the following statement.
“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. 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.”