The Amazon-owned supermarket chain Whole Foods is doubling down on its policy banning workers from wearing masks emblazoned with the phrase, “Black Lives Matter.” According to a report by Bloomberg, the company has accused the federal government of violating its First Amendment rights by trying to allow its employees to wear the BLM face coverings.
A district judge had previously found Whole Foods was not racially discriminating against its employees by banning BLM masks from being worn in the workplace.
Whole Foods claimed in a Dec. 17 filing that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was attempting to “compel employer speech,” which the company says is unconstitutional. The filing served as a response weeks after prosecutors with the NLRB filed a formal complaint against Whole Foods centered on its dress code policies, including masks.
Whole Foods has maintained it did not violate any of its workers’ rights.
“We do not believe we should compromise that experience by introducing any messages on uniforms, regardless of the content, that shift the focus away from our mission,” Whole Foods said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the supermarket chain insisted during an interview with Bloomberg that the company’s dress code policy is designed “to ensure we are giving Team Members a workplace and customers a shopping experience focused entirely on excellent service and high-quality food.”
The company also argued that the protections offered by the National Labor Relations Act do not extend to “political and/or social justice speech,” reasoning that BLM apparel “is not objectively understood to relate to workplace issues or improving working conditions at WFM’s retail grocery stores.”
In July 2020, a group of Whole Foods employees filed a discrimination lawsuit against the company after employees who wore Black Lives Matter masks during their shift were punished and sent home without being paid. The lawsuit also said the workers were threatened with termination if they continued to wear the masks at work. Whole Foods did not enforce the dress code on employees who wore masks or clothing that expressed support for other causes, the lawsuit also claimed. However, the lawsuit was dismissed last February after a judge ruled in favor of the supermarket chain.
At the time, U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs said employees who weren’t happy with the company policy could try to persuade Whole Foods to change it, express themselves outside the workplace, or find another place to work.
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