I was just reading about this lawsuit brought against Whole Foods by three former employees who alleged the Amazon-owned grocery chain unlawfully fired them for wearing Black Lives Matter masks.
A federal judge has dismissed the lawsuit, finding there was no evidence Whole Foods used its dress code policy as a pretext to discriminate against the three fired employees.
This is an important ruling, as it reaffirms the principle that businesses have the right to enforce their dress code policies in a fair and consistent manner. Whole Foods faced walkouts and protests in 2020 for forbidding workers to wear masks with Black Lives Matter written on them in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.
The three employees represented in the lawsuit sued after they were fired for violating the dress code policy.
It’s important to note that the judge’s ruling is not about the importance of the Black Lives Matter message or the value of the employees’ advocacy in wearing the masks.
It’s also not about the quality of Whole Foods’ decision-making.
The judge’s ruling is about whether the record can support three retaliation claims under Title VII, and the judge found that no reasonable jury could conclude by a preponderance of the evidence that Whole Foods’ reasons for the terminations were pretextual and motivated by discriminatory animus.
The judge also ruled that the plaintiffs failed to show how a similarly situated employee who had violated the dress code policy was treated differently than the employees fired for wearing BLM masks.
“The evidence demonstrates only that Whole Foods did not strenuously enforce the dress code policy until mid-2020, and that when it increased enforcement, it did so uniformly,” the judge found.
It is worth noting that the National Labor Relations Board prosecutors last year accused Whole Foods of violating U.S. labor law by allegedly punishing workers who wore BLM masks in 2020.
But the company has insisted it was simply sticking to its dress code, mandatory for all employees. Whole Foods’ dress code policy does not single out any one message or slogan, it is designed to create a workplace and shopping experience focused entirely on excellent service and high-quality food.
In conclusion, this lawsuit was brought against Whole Foods, but it was ultimately dismissed. The judge found that there was no evidence to support the claim that Whole Foods unlawfully fired the employees for wearing Black Lives Matter masks.
The decision reaffirms the principle that businesses have the right to enforce their dress code policies in a fair and consistent manner.