Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Whole Foods Over BLM Masks

Employees allege they were illegally fired for wearing Black Lives Matter apparel
Marian Zboraj
Digital Editor
Marian Zboraj
Black Lives Matter
A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought against Whole Foods by former employees who alleged that the grocer unlawfully fired them for wearing Black Lives Matter masks.

On Jan. 23, a federal judge ruled in favor of Whole Foods Market’s firing of workers who wore Black Lives Matter masks in 2020, finding that the employees didn’t prove that the Amazon-owned grocery chain had discriminatory or retaliatory motives.

Many Whole Foods employees began wearing Black Lives Matter masks following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd. A group of employees who wore the Black Lives Matter masks filed a civil rights lawsuit against the company in July 2020, alleging that the grocer unlawfully fired them for wearing the masks.

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The grocer indicated that the masks violated the company’s dress code, which prohibits employees from wearing clothing with any visible slogan, message, logo or advertising, with exceptions for the Whole Foods logo and those of Whole Foods affiliates.

According to The Hill, U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs found that Whole Foods didn’t treat the workers differently from similarly situated ones who violated its dress code policy when the chain stepped up enforcement of it in mid-2020.

As reported by the Society for Human Resource ManagementWhole Foods spokesman Nathan Cimbala said that the company welcomed the ruling.

Whole Foods Markets dress code policy has long promoted a welcoming, safe and inclusive shopping environment focused entirely on high-quality food. We are pleased with the outcome and appreciate the courts time and attention to this matter, Cimbala said.

The Hill reported that Burroughs previously dismissed nearly all of the employee claims in a ruling later upheld by an appeals panel, but she left alive one claim of unlawful retaliation brought by a former employee at a Cambridge, Mass., store. The Jan. 23 order subsequently tossed out that remaining claim.

The first certified-organic national grocer, Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods has more than 500 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Seattle-based Amazon, which is No. 2 on The PG 100,  Progressive Grocer’s 2022 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.

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