Whole Foods Market was sued yesterday by employees who accused the upscale grocery chain of punishing workers who wear “Black Lives Matter” face masks on the workplace.
The 14 plaintiffs in the proposed nationwide class action accused Whole Foods, a unit of Amazon.com Inc, of sending workers home without pay or imposing rigid disciplinary actions for wearing the masks and related apparel.
Whole Foods responded saying that the masks violate its longstanding dress code banning clothing with “visible slogans, messages, logos or advertising” unrelated to the company.
Charles Thompson, an employee who says he was written up for wearing an "I Can't Breathe" mask last week, protests with coworkers outside the South Lake Union Whole Foods against store management not allowing workers to wear Black Lives Matter apparel in the aftermath of the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Seattle, Washington, U.S. Image credit REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson
But the complaint, filed as “Frith et al v Whole Foods Market Inc U.S. District Court District of Massachusetts No. 20-11358" case, is being reviewed by the Boston federal court, which claimed that Whole Foods has selectively enforced its code, and seeks an injunction to stop it from targeting Black Lives Matter supporters.
Savannah Kinzer, a white plaintiff, declared that she was fired on Saturday after organizing co-workers in protest at a Whole Foods in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan reported in an interview that “Many companies are making enthusiastic statements about how they support Black Lives Matter and protests that have shaken up the country.”
“Whole Foods and Amazon have portrayed themselves as champions of racial justice, but when their employees try to speak out, they get muzzled,” the lawyer added.
Image credit GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper
Asked to respond to a request for comment, a Whole Foods spokeswoman declined to discuss the lawsuit but said the company has “zero tolerance” for retaliation. She added that Kinzer was fired for lateness and missing shifts.
Kinzer disputed this and said Whole Foods has let employees wear masks bearing political messages and sports team logos and let her wear a mask with the phrase “Soup is Good,” without any incident.
The plaintiffs come from four states, and several racial and ethnic backgrounds. More plaintiffs are expected to follow in the next days.
Black Lives Matter protests gained new strength after the May 25 brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, where a police officer pinned his neck to the ground.
On June 3, Amazon supported the “Black lives matter” movement, donating $10 million to social justice organizations.