Judge dismisses Whole Foods employee lawsuit over ‘Black Lives Matter’ masks

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A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit by three former Whole Foods employees who said they were illegally fired for resisting the upscale supermarket chain’s alleged discriminatory discipline of employees wearing “Black Lives Matter” masks.

U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs in Boston, in a 28-page decision, found little evidence to refute Whole Foods’ “legitimate business statements” for strictly enforcing the dress code, and no significant evidence it targeted the plaintiffs by firing them in the summer of 2020.

“The evidence only shows that Whole Foods did not vigorously enforce the dress code policy until mid-2020, and that when it increased enforcement, it did this uniformly,” she added.

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Whole Foods, part of Amazon.com Inc., has long maintained that it enforced its dress code uniformly and intended the code — which also included visible slogans, logos, and advertising — to promote a welcoming and safe shopping environment.

“This holding is not about the importance of the Black Lives Matter message, the value of plaintiffs’ advocacy in wearing the masks, the courage of their statements against what they perceived as workplace discrimination, or the quality of Whole Foods’ decision making,” Burroughs wrote.

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Burroughs said the three former employees, Haley Evans, Savannah Kinzer and Christopher Michno, were not entitled to protections from retaliation under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Whole Foods did not immediately respond to similar requests.

Last June, the federal appeals court in Boston upheld Burroughs’ February 2021 dismissal of a proposed dress code class action suit, on slightly different legal grounds than hers.

Related: Whole Foods workers lose appeal over ‘Black Lives Matter’ masks

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The Black Lives Matter movement started after police killed several black people in the United States.

A video showing the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by a police officer sparked nationwide protests over racial injustice.

Whole Foods had hired Evans at a store in Marlton, New Jersey, while Kinzer worked in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Michno in Berkeley, California.

The case is Kinzer et al v. Whole Foods Market Inc, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts, No. 20-11358.

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