Whole Foods faces legal action after restricting employees from wearing BLM-themed masks
Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market (WFM) has fired back at the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), insisting it has a constitutional right to ban employees from wearing apparel with non-company-related slogans and logos.
In early December, the NLRB filed a formal complaint against the Amazon subsidiary over its dress code that, among other things, prohibits workers from sporting BLM-themed face masks in the workplace. Whole Foods insists that any attempts to steamroll it into changing the rules and allowing a “political message” would constitute a violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
In a legal filing obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and dated December 17, Whole Foods argued NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo was “unlawfully infringing upon and/or diluting WFM’s protected trademarks” through her legal action. A WFM representative went on to accuse the Biden-appointed official of trying to “compel” speech.
According to the statement, “By singling out the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ the General Counsel is impermissibly favoring, and requiring that WFM favor, certain expressions of political speech over others in its retail grocery stores.”
Speaking to the New York Post, a Whole Foods spokesperson clarified that the ban does not target BLM movement specifically, but rather any visible slogans or logos other than company-related ones.
The case is expected to be heard by a court in March.
US labor authorities, for their part, claim the grocery store was in the wrong when it prevented several employees from displaying BLM apparel, as wearing such, in the NLRB’s eyes, falls well within workers’ rights to participate in “concerted activities for their mutual aid and protection.”
Whole Foods, however, parried the accusations, saying that BLM messages are “not objectively understood to relate to workplace issues or improving workplace conditions at WFM’s retail grocery stores.”
This is not the first time the grocery chain has faced legal challenges over its reluctance to let employees wear BLM-themed apparel on the job. Last February, a judge sided with WFM following a lawsuit by 27 plaintiffs who claimed that Whole Foods only enforced its dress code selectively.