Whole Foods' Discipline of Employees for Wearing Black Lives Matter Masks Upheld

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. June 30, 2022
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Whole Foods Discipline of Employees for Wearing Black Lives Matter Masks Upheld

​Whole Foods did not unlawfully discriminate by disciplining employees for wearing Black Lives Matter masks at work, an appeals court decided June 28, affirming a lower court decision. We've gathered articles on the news from SHRM Online and other outlets.

No Race Discrimination Shown

A panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the workers did not show that Whole Foods' enforcement of a previously unenforced dress code by banning the masks constituted race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Whole Foods welcomed the decision, saying its dress code has long promoted a "welcoming, safe and inclusive shopping environment." It also has called the dress code neutral and, with its parent company, Amazon, expressed support for Black Lives Matter.

(Reuters)

Lawsuits' Claim

Twenty-eight plaintiffs had sued Whole Foods, alleging that its discipline of employees in several states for wearing Black Lives Matter masks constituted unlawful racial discrimination in violation of Title VII. The plaintiffs also alleged that Whole Foods' discipline of employees for opposing its policy was unlawful retaliation. Following the district court's decision in favor of Whole Foods last year, Shannon Liss-Riordan, the plaintiffs' attorney and a lawyer with Lichten & Liss-Riordan in Boston, said, "We are disappointed with the court's conclusion that advocating on behalf of Black employees is not protected activity under Title VII."

(SHRM Online)

Responding to Social and Political Expression at Work

Companies may risk bad publicity, poor employee morale and even protests if they restrict certain forms of expression. Nonetheless, some employers may fear that allowing employees to display any social or political messages at work will create tension and leave them vulnerable to customer complaints or lawsuits.

(SHRM Online)

Businesses Take Different Stances

Many national or regional chains forbid the Black Lives Matter logo, often as part of existing dress codes or restrictions on overt political or noncompany-related symbols. By contrast, some smaller, locally owned groceries and other businesses have allowed Black Lives Matter symbols in the workplace.

(The Seattle Times)

Companies That Support Black Lives Matter

Some large companies have announced their support for Black Lives Matter. These companies include Cisco, Comcast, IBM, Microsoft and Uber.

(Built In)

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