Whole Foods Sued by Employees Over Black Lives Matter Masks

Illustration for article titled Whole Foods Sued by Employees Over Black Lives Matter Masks
Photo: SAUL LOEB (Getty Images)

Amazon was one of many companies that spoke out in favor of the Black Lives Matter movement as protests against systemic racism and police violence intensified. Many looked at the move with a side-eye considering the company’s questionable labor practices and the frequent allegations of racial bias that exist within the company. Now, a lawsuit filed by employees at the Amazon-owned Whole Foods has only added to the perception that their support for Black lives is mostly performative.


CBS News reports that the lawsuit, filed on behalf of 15 employees, alleges that one woman was fired and about 40 others were disciplined for wearing Black Lives Matter face masks at work. The suit was filed at a district court in Massachusetts on Monday and is seeking class-action status. While the Whole Foods dress code bans any branding or phrases not related to the company, the suit alleges that the policy was not enforced until recently when employees started wearing BLM apparel.

From CBS News:

“Employees have worn pins or flags supporting their LGBTQ colleagues with no repercussions. Another employee wore a pin that said ‘Lock him up,’ which could be interpreted as political,” said Shannon Liss-Riordan, lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

“Whole Foods was not enforcing its so-called dress policy until its employees started putting on their Black Lives Matter masks. That’s discrimination against Black employees and other employees who are supporting their Black coworkers and advocating for them in the workplace,” she added.

The suit alleges that former employee Savannah Kinzer was fired due to her outspokenness for BLM and for organizing her fellow employees in wearing BLM masks. Kinzer worked at a Whole Foods in Cambridge, Mass., and believed that the company was illegally punishing employees for wearing the masks. She filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and, according to Liss-Riordan, was fired within an hour of informing her managers about the complaints.

A spokesperson for Whole Foods released a statement responding to the suit, saying that Kinzer’s firing was not related to her support of Black Lives Matter. “Savannah Kinzer was separated from the company for repeatedly violating our Time & Attendance policy by not working her assigned shifts, reporting late for work multiple times in the past nine days and choosing to leave during her scheduled shifts. It is simply untrue that she was separated from the company for wearing a Black Lives Matter face mask,” the statement said. The statement also added that “no Team Members have been terminated for wearing Black Lives Matter face masks or apparel.”

The lawsuit comes as multiple companies such as Taco Bell and Starbucks have expanded their dress code to allow employees to wear Black Lives Matter apparel. When it comes to the federal government, the Office of Special Counsel has said that federal employees can wear apparel in support of the movement as it doesn’t constitute a partisan political issue.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has issued statements in support of Black Lives Matter and last week the company announced it has donated nearly $17 million in support of social justice organizations such as the NAACP and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. While this is all well and good, perhaps a more meaningful action would be to improve labor conditions for their Black employees. Also, maybe don’t launch racist smear campaigns against those simply trying to improve things for workers. Just, you know, an idea.

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