Whole Foods says its First Amendment rights will be violated if it's forced to allow employees to wear Black Lives Matter insignia

·3 min read
Whole Foods
Whole Foods employees earlier sued the company over its dress-code policy.Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
  • The National Labor Relations Board wants Whole Foods to reverse a ban on workers wearing BLM masks.

  • In a court filing in mid-December, Whole Foods responded to claims that such a ban is illegal.

  • Lawyers argued that the NLRB was trying to violate the company's First Amendment rights.

Whole Foods claimed in a court filing that the US was attempting to violate its constitutional rights by forcing it to allow its employees to wear Black Lives Matter insignia on the job.

Lawyers for the Amazon-owned grocery chain made the claim in a December 17 filing responding to the National Labor Relations Board's claims that Whole Foods illegally barred employees from wearing Black Lives Matter masks at work.

Bloomberg, which was the first to report on the filing, obtained the document through a Freedom of Information Act request.

In the filing, seen by Insider, Whole Foods accused the NLRB's general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, of attempting to violate the company's First Amendment rights by trying to "compel" speech.

"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," the filing said, referring to Whole Foods Market.

"The General Counsel seeks to compel employer speech by WFM in violation of the WFM's rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and enforcement of any Order from the Board to compel such speech would violate the Constitution," the filing said.

The filing was in response to a complaint the NLRB made in early December.

In a statement to Insider, a spokesperson for Whole Foods said its dress-code policy was 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," they said.

In July 2020, a group of employees sued Whole Foods, claiming the company forbade them from wearing Black Lives Matter masks at work and threatened them with termination if they did.

The lawsuit said that employees had "commonly worn Pride flags in support of their LGBTQ+ coworkers without being disciplined by Whole Foods" and that the company's "selective enforcement" of its dress code "constitutes unlawful discrimination."

In October 2020, Whole Foods announced a new dress code for all workers in its stores that banned visible logos, slogans, messages, or flags of any kind, among other things, Insider's Avery Hartmans reported.

In a filing in early December 2021, the NLRB accused Whole Foods of violating federal labor law, under which workers have the right to engage in "concerted activities for their mutual aid and protection."

In the December 17 filing, Whole Foods argued that workers' rights to participate in collective action did not include promoting BLM messages. Black Lives Matter is "not objectively understood to relate to workplace issues or improving workplace conditions at WFM's retail grocery stores," it said.

Read the original article on Business Insider