A federal judge has ruled in favor of Whole Foods in a lawsuit filed by three former workers who were fired after repeatedly donning Black Lives Matter masks, in violation of the retailer’s dress code.
The former employees —Haley Evans, Savannah Kinzer, and Christopher Michno — had claimed that their firings constituted retaliation and were a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Evans and Kinzer were actually fired because of absences they accrued when they were sent home for refusing to remove the masks, while Michno was fired for dress code violations, according to court filings.
According to the judge’s ruling, Whole Foods’ dress code policy prohibited employees from wearing clothing with “any visible slogan, message, logo or advertising,” unless it was branded with Whole Foods’ logo or that of other Whole Foods affiliates.
“Whole Foods Market’s dress code policy has long promoted a welcoming, safe, and inclusive shopping environment focused entirely on high-quality food,” a Whole Foods spokesperson told SN. “We are pleased with the outcome and appreciate the court’s time and attention to this matter.”
The former employees, who worked at three different Whole Foods locations around the country, began wearing the masks in the wake of the George Floyd murder in 2020 and the ensuing protests. The employees also said they continued to wear the masks not only to support the Black Live Matter movement in general, but also to protest what they claimed were discriminatory actions taken by Whole Foods, including the enforcement of the dress code when it came to Black Lives Matter masks.
In the lawsuit, they argued that they were treated more harshly than other employees who had similarly violated the dress code and attendance policies and that the company “deviated from normal termination procedures.”
A lower court in June also ruled in favor of Whole Foods and its parent company, Amazon, in a suit alleging discrimination and retaliation related to the prohibition of Black Lives Matter masks in the workplace.
In issuing her ruling this week in favor of Whole Foods, U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs said the former employees did not present compelling evidence that the retailer retaliated against them by firing them.
“There is little evidence in the record to refute Whole Foods’ legitimate business explanations for its strict enforcement of its dress code policy against the wearing of Black Lives Matter masks and its termination of Plaintiffs as a result, however unwise they might have been,” she concluded.