Whole Foods employees' claims about being punished for wearing Black Lives Matter face masks have been dismissed by a federal judge


A federal judge on Friday dismissed most of the complaints made by Whole Foods employees who said they'd been punished for wearing Black Lives Matter face masks. 

The upscale grocery store, owned by Amazon, had been accused of only enforcing its no-slogan dress code when employees wore masks with the slogan "Black Lives Matter," but not when they wore other clothes with slogans. 

A group of 14 employees sued Whole Foods in July 2020, saying they were being discriminated against. Some employees said they'd been singled out for wearing BLM gear. The suit grew to 27 employees. 

Read more: Workers at chains including Whole Foods and Whataburger are taking legal action in fight over employees' right to wear Black Lives Matter masks

On Friday, US district judge Allison D. Burroughs, of the US district court in Massachusetts, dismissed most of the claims.

Most of the complaints were made under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits racial discrimination. Burroughs wrote that Whole Foods had used "inconsistent enforcement" of its policy, but it didn't amount to racial discrimination. 

"Title VII prohibits discrimination against a person because of race. It does not protect one's right to associate with a given social cause, even a race-related one, in the workplace," Burroughs wrote. 

Title VII doesn't protect free speech in a private workplace, the judge wrote. 

Employees unhappy with the Whole Foods policy "can find someplace else to work," wrote Burroughs. She said they could also work with Whole Foods to update the policy. 

"We remain dedicated to ensuring our team members feel safe and free from discrimination and retaliation," a company spokesperson told Reuters on Friday. 

Burroughs on Friday also said a retaliation complaint made by Savannah Kinzer could continue.

Kinzer was fired in part because she'd accumulated "points" for wearing a BLM mask, the judge wrote. But Kinzer also said she was fired for leading other employees in the effort to wear masks, and for filing charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the National Labor Relations Board, according to the lawsuit. 

"Given her burden at this stage, Plaintiff Kinzer has alleged facts sufficient to plausibly infer that her termination was causally linked to protected activity," wrote Burroughs. 

Read more: New data shows that Amazon is using its underpricing strategy to take online business from grocery competitors like Walmart and Target

Whole Foods launched a new dress code last November. 

"But we're worried that it's leaning toward a more super-corporate, you're-just-another-cog-in-the-machine kind of employee situation," an employee told Insider at the time.