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

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 employees wearing BLM masks.
  • In a filing obtained by Bloomberg, Whole Foods responds to labor board prosecutors’ claims that such a ban is illegal.
  • Lawyers for Whole Foods argue the NLRB is trying to violate its First Amendment rights, per Bloomberg.

Whole Foods has claimed that the US is attempting to violate its constitutional rights by forcing it to allow its employees to wear Black Lives Matter insignia on the job, according to a court filing obtained by Bloomberg.

Lawyers for the Amazon-owned grocery chain made the claim in a December 17 filing, in which they respond to National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) claims that Whole Foods illegally banned employees from wearing Black Lives Matter masks at work, Bloomberg said.

In the December 17 filing, Whole Foods accuses NLRB consul Jennifer Abruzzo of breaching the company’s First Amendment rights by trying to “compel” speech and ‘”unlawfully infringing upon and/or diluting” Whole Foods’ “protected trademarks,” Bloomberg reported.

The December 17 filing responds to a complaint made by the NLRB in early December. Bloomberg said it obtained the December 17 filing through a Freedom of Information Act request. The filing was not immediately available to Insider.

A spokesperson for Whole Foods did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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 said that its “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 Hartman reported.

In a filing in early December 2021, the NLRB claimed that Whole Foods was in violation of federal labor law, under which workers have the right to engage in “concerted activities for their mutual aid and protection.”

In a counter-filing later that month, Whole Foods argued that workers’ rights to participate in collective action tied to the workplace do not include BLM messages. Blacks Lives Matter is “not objectively understood to relate to workplace issues or improving working conditions at WFM’s retail grocery stores,” Whole Foods attorneys wrote, per Bloomberg.