Supermarket chain Whole Foods Market is arguing that the federal government is trying to violate its constitutional right to ban employees from wearing Black Lives Matter face masks at work.
That claim was part of the Amazon-owned grocery chain’s Dec. 17 response to the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) complaint that accused Whole Foods of violating federal law by imposing a workplace dress code that barred the BLM insignia. Bloomberg obtained Whole Food’s court filing through a Freedom of Information Act request.
According to Bloomberg News, Whole Foods accused NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo of attempting to “compel employer speech,” which violates the chain’s First Amendment rights.
Whole Foods stated in its filing: "By singling out the phrase 'Black Lives Matter' the General Counsel is impermissibly favoring, and requiring that [Whole Foods] favor, certain expressions of political speech over others in its retail grocery stores."
The health food retailer told Business Insider that its 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."
"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," the statement continued.
In July 2020, a group of Whole Foods workers filed a discrimination lawsuit against the grocery chain for disciplining workers who wore BLM masks during their shift. The workers said Whole Foods had sent employees home without pay for violating its dress code starting in the previous month and threatened to terminate them.
According to The New York Times, the lawsuit also underscored that Whole Foods did not enforce its dress code policy when employees wore messages on masks or clothing that expressed support for other causes, including the movement for LGBTQ rights.