BOSTON (WHDH) - Whole Foods employees have filed a class-action discrimination lawsuit against the grocery chain for allegedly disciplining workers who wore Black Lives Matter facemasks while on the job.
The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts on Monday morning, was initiated by 14 workers from Cambridge, Bedford, New Hampshire, Berkeley, California, and Seattle, Washington, according to a news release.
The plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction that would prohibit further retaliation against employees who choose to wear Black Lives Matter masks during their shifts.
Following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, many Whole Foods employees began wearing Black Lives Matter masks as a show of solidarity.
In June, the grocery chain started disciplining, harassing, intimidating, and sending workers home without pay for wearing the masks, the lawsuit alleges. Some were said to be subjected to “corrective counseling,” while others were reportedly fired.
Store managers cited the company dress code, which prohibits slogans or logos not affiliated with the company, as the reason for prohibiting Black Lives Matter messages on employee attire.
The complaint also alleges that Whole Foods’ actions violate the Civil Rights Act prohibitions on discrimination and retaliation and request an immediate injunction against employee retaliation and termination, as well as compensatory damages and back pay.
“Whole Foods states prominently on its website and on signs in its stores that ‘racism has no place here,’ but won’t allow employees to express solidarity with Black lives,” said Savannah Kinzer, a plaintiff in the case who claims she was recently terminated by Whole Foods for wearing a Black Lives Matter mask.
Suverino Frith, another Whole Foods employee and plaintiff, noted that “many of the essential workers at Whole Foods are people of color.”
In a statement, a Whole Foods spokesperson said, “While we cannot comment on pending litigation, it is critical to clarify that no team members have been terminated for wearing Black Lives Matter face masks or apparel. Savannah Kinzer was separated from the company for repeatedly violating our time and 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. As an employer, we must uphold our policies in an equitable and consistent manner. Savannah had a full understanding of our policies and was given a number of opportunities to comply.”
The spokesperson also explained the policies that are in place at Whole Foods are to ensure that stores are operating in a manner that “prioritizes operational safety and keeps the focus on customer service.”
The chain also has a zero-tolerance for retaliation and recognizes, respects, and take steps to ensure we employees’ legal rights are not impinged upon, according to the spokesperson.
A copy of the lawsuit is attached below:
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