More than a dozen workers sued Whole Foods after the grocery giant allegedly punished some of them for wearing “Black Lives Matter” face masks on the job.
The 14 workers in four states say staffers were sent home without pay, formally disciplined or even fired for donning the masks in solidarity with the nationwide movement against police brutality. The crackdown has deterred other workers from wearing them for fear of losing their jobs, according to the suit filed Monday.
The class-action complaint in Massachusetts federal court asks a judge to bar the Amazon-owned supermarket chain from punishing any more workers under its “discriminatory” policy, which has already sparked employee protests and a boycott.
Whole Foods reprimanded the workers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, California and Washington state in the name of a corporate dress code that was “generally unenforced” until recently, the lawsuit alleges.
Other staffers were allowed to wear masks decorated with SpongeBob SquarePants and vegetable prints even though the policy bans slogans and logos that aren’t “company-related,” according to the complaint. Staffers have also donned apparel featuring sports team logos and LGBT pride flags without being punished, the suit says.
“Whole Foods’ selective enforcement of its dress code in disciplining employees who wear apparel expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement constitutes unlawful discrimination on the basis of race and on the basis of employees’ affiliation with and advocacy for black employees,” the complaint reads.
Whole Foods fired one Massachusetts employee, Savannah Kinzer, on Saturday after she recruited colleagues to wear BLM masks in protest of the policy, the lawsuit says. The complaint attributed her ouster to her accumulation of “points” under the company’s discipline system, “most of which she received as a result of wearing the Black Lives Matter mask.”
But a Whole Foods spokesperson said Kinzer was canned because she missed assigned shifts, showed up late multiple times and left during her scheduled shifts. The company added that it has no tolerance for retaliation and respects its employees’ legal rights.
“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,” the Whole Foods spokesperson said in a statement.