June 17, 2024

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Specialists in technology

Whole Foods workers sue over Black Lives Matter masks


Whole Foods employees are required to wear masks at work due to the coronavirus.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Whole Foods workers are accusing the grocery chain of discriminating against employees for wearing Black Lives Matter face masks at work. In a proposed class action suit filed Monday, the workers allege that Amazon-owned Whole Foods sent employees home without pay or took other disciplinary actions against them for wearing face masks with BLM messages.

The allegations appear to clash with public support for BLM from Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos. Last month, Bezos posted his responses to racist customer emails, defending a Black Lives Matter banner that appeared on Amazon’s site. The e-commerce giant also pledged $10 million to organizations that help Black communities and strive for social justice.

Whole Foods employees are required to wear face masks at work due to the coronavirus pandemic. Following the killing of George Floyd by police and nationwide protests, some Whole Foods employees began wearing masks that showed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

While the grocer has a dress code that prohibits employees from wearing items with visible slogans, messages or logos that aren’t company-related, the lawsuit says the policy wasn’t generally enforced. Whole Foods employees have worn items expressing support for other causes, such as Pride flags, without being disciplined, according to the lawsuit. 

“The actions of Whole Foods against its employees are not only illegal but shameful,” said Shannon Liss-Riordan, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, in a release Monday. “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.”

One of the plaintiffs in the case, Savannah Kinzer, said she was fired for wearing a Black Lives Matter mask and organizing other employees to do so as well.

A Whole Foods spokesperson said the company couldn’t comment on pending litigation, but added that “no team members have been terminated for wearing Black Lives Matter face masks or apparel.” Whole Foods said Kinzer was fired for lateness and missing shifts.

The lawsuit was filed in US District Court in Massachusetts on behalf of 14 employees at Whole Foods stores in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Bedford, New Hampshire; Berkeley, California; and Seattle, Washington.

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