In late July, a group of fourteen grocery store workers sued a supermarket chain, alleging that it discriminated against employees when it banned the wearing of Black Lives Matter or BLM masks at work. The lawsuit alleges that the company disciplined, and in one case, terminated, employees for wearing masks supporting the racial justice and political movement. In its defense, the employer said that it enforced a neutral dress code policy prohibiting all visible slogans, messages, advertising, and logos not affiliated with the company. The plaintiff-employees allege that the employer allowed other messages and logos (e.g., rainbow flags in support of LGBTQ rights and sports logos).
The facts will bear out as this case proceeds, and it should be noted that other employers have taken a similar stand on neutral dress code policies banning messages on shirts and face masks.
This case serves as a warning to employers to ensure that they uniformly enforce neutral dress code policies. If such a policy is adopted, employers must ban all messages and logos–not just the ones that are controversial or against the employer’s own beliefs. Likewise, employers also should ensure that they enforce neutral non-solicitation and non-distribution policies against all forms of solicitation and distribution. A failure to do so could result in similar claims to this case, as well as potential labor law problems in the event of union organizing. Notably, the grocery store employees also filed an unfair labor practice, alleging that the company interfered with their rights to concerted activity to improve working conditions.
The case is Frith v. Whole Foods Market Inc., Case No. 1:20-cv-11358 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.