Employees working at Whole Foods in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and two other states have reportedly filed a class action discrimination lawsuit against the grocery chain for disciplining workers who wore Black Lives Matter masks during their shift.
According to NBC Chicago, the suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Boston on Monday (July 20) against the grocery store chain, seeking a preliminary injunction prohibiting further retaliation against workers who want to wear the masks while on the job.
The suit says that employees who wore the BLM masks in support of the movement were sent home without pay starting in June. They were also reportedly harassed and intimidated by management, threatened with termination and in some cases fired. Whole Foods is claiming that no one was fired for wearing a Black Lives Matter mask.
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“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,” a statement by the company on Monday said in-part.
Over a dozen employees at a Cambridge, Massachusetts location say they were sent home for wearing the masks in June while two other workers at a Bedford, New Hampshire location say they too were sent home earlier this month.
“The actions of Whole Foods against its employees are not only illegal but shameful,” Shannon Liss-Riordan, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said, according to NBC Chicago. “These essential workers have been asked to put their health at risk during this pandemic, and they have done so. Whole Foods’ decision to selectively and arbitrarily enforce it’s ‘dress code’ to specifically suppress the message that Black Lives Matter paints a picture about what the company values, and that picture is not pretty.”
In a statement from last month, Whole Foods said it “prohibits clothing with visible slogans, messages, logos or advertising that are not company-related.” That though doesn’t square with what workers say has or hasn’t been enforced by the company in the past. They say rainbow pins and flags, sports team logos, and humorous statements have been brandished without consequence.
“In addition to being discriminatory, Whole Foods’ policy on Black Lives Matter facemasks is hypocritical,” Savannah Kinzer, a plaintiff in the case who was employed at the Cambridge store and recently terminated, said. “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.”
14 employees at Whole Foods stores in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Bedford, New Hampshire; Berkeley, California; and Seattle, Washington initiated the class action suit. Workers in North Carolina, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Michigan are expected to join the action, said Liss-Riordan.