Court Revives Lawsuit on BLM Mask Firing at Whole Foods

Court Revives Lawsuit on BLM Mask Firing at Whole Foods

A recent decision by a US appeals court has breathed new life into a lawsuit accusing Whole Foods of wrongfully terminating a worker who stood firm on wearing a “Black Lives Matter” facemask. The lawsuit involves Savannah Kinzer, an employee from a Cambridge, Massachusetts store, who was outspoken about racism within the upscale grocery chain. The 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals, in a unanimous 3-0 ruling, suggested that Kinzer’s dismissal may have strayed from Whole Foods’ typical disciplinary protocol.

The court, based in Boston, also upheld the rejection of similar complaints brought by two other workers, Haley Evans and Christopher Michno, on the grounds of lacking evidence to support claims of unusual treatment by Whole Foods. Notably, Whole Foods belongs to the Amazon corporation.

Following the decision, there was no immediate comment from Whole Foods or their legal representatives. Likewise, the plaintiffs’ attorney did not provide an instant response to inquiries.

The lawsuit stems from a series of protests triggered by the tragic killing of George Floyd in May 2020. It initiated as a proposed class action against Whole Foods over a dress code restriction prohibiting Black Lives Matter apparel among employees.

Whole Foods has defended its dress code, including the ban on visible slogans, logos, and ads, asserting that such policies aimed to maintain a welcoming and safe shopping environment. Notwithstanding, in 2022, the appeals court dismissed the class action component of the case.

Kinzer, the central figure in this legal battle, asserts that her termination was in retaliation for engaging in protected activities such as protesting, refusing to remove her mask, interacting with the media, and submitting a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Whole Foods alleged that Kinzer’s dismissal was justified due to her subpar attendance, including accruing “attendance points” linked to wearing a mask during work hours. However, Circuit Judge Kermit Lipez highlighted the ambiguity surrounding the application of attendance policies and potential bias against Kinzer’s protected conduct, suggesting a need for a jury to resolve such discrepancies.

Now, the case goes back to US District Judge Allison Burroughs in Boston, who previously dismissed all claims from the plaintiffs in January 2023. The involved workers, Evans and Michno, were based in Marlton, New Jersey, and Berkeley, California, respectively.

This legal development underscores the ongoing tensions between corporate rules, employee activism, and the broader societal issues surrounding racial justice. As the legal battle continues, it remains a focal point in the broader conversation on workplace rights and the intersection of individual beliefs with corporate policies.

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