- Whole Foods is seeking to throw out a lawsuit that claims the retailer violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when asking employees not to wear face masks supporting Black Lives Matter, according to Westlaw Today.
- In a motion filed in Boston federal court, the company’s lawyer argued that Whole Foods was enforcing a neutral dress code policy in asking employees not to wear the masks, not engaging in racial bias.
- The class action lawsuit was filed by 14 plaintiffs in July, alleging that Whole Foods took disciplinary actions against workers for wearing Black Lives Matter masks like sending employees home without pay, asking them to change their masks and, in one instance, firing an employee.
Whole Foods has been quiet about this lawsuit and the issues that sparked it in recent weeks, but now the company has taken its own legal action and is standing by its decision.
The retailer is arguing that its position on the Black Lives Matter movement is not in question, and that it is simply trying to enforce its dress code, which bans slogans and messages on clothing at work, regardless of their meaning. In the motion, the company also noted that Title VII doesn’t prevent the retailer from banning this type of clothing.
An initial walk-out took place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in June, when a group of employees was told they were violating Whole Foods’ dress code with their Black Lives Matter masks. Since then, the company has faced additional backlash. In Berkeley, California, hundreds of protestors gathered last month to speak against the company’s dress code. An employee also noted that Whole Foods had never enforced its dress code before this incident.
Trader Joe’s has also come under fire from employees for similar policies related to Black Lives Matter accessories. Many workers have reported they aren’t allowed to wear items like pins or masks supporting the movement, though generally the company’s policy prohibits any outside accessories. Costco has also encountered pushback from employees and customers for its attempts to stop employees from wearing Black Lives Matter masks, according to Buzzfeed.
Whole Foods has not been particularly vocal about the racial and social unrest this spring and summer even as other retailers have. In June, Albertsons’ CEO Vivek Sankaran issued a statement condemning racism, while Kroger pledged $5 million to support racial equality and inclusivity.