The legal team for the grocery chain filed the claim on December 17 in response to the National Labor Relations Board’s alleging that Whole Foods illegally inhibited employees from wearing Black Lives Matter masks on the job.
In the filing, Whole Foods accused Jennifer Abruzzo, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, of attempting to violate the company’s First Amendment rights by trying to “compel” speech.
“By singling out the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ the General Counsel is impermissibly favoring, and requiring that WFM favor, certain expressions of political speech over others in its retail grocery stores,” the filing read.
Whole Foods argued that promoting BLM messages was not included in the workers’ rights to participate in collective action. Also, Black Lives Matter is “not objectively understood to relate to workplace issues or improving workplace conditions at WFM’s retail grocery stores,” the filing read.
“The General Counsel seeks to compel employer speech by WFM in violation of the WFM’s rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and enforcement of any Order from the Board to compel such speech would violate the Constitution,” the filing continued.
In a statement obtained by Insider, a Whole Foods spokesperson said its current dress-code policy was established “to ensure we are giving team members a workplace and customers a shopping experience focused entirely on excellent service and high-quality food.”
“We do not believe we should compromise that experience by introducing any messages on uniforms, regardless of the content, that shift the focus away from our mission,” the statement continued.
Back in July 2020, a group of employees sued Whole Foods, alleging the company prohibited them from wearing Black Lives Matter masks at work and threatened them with termination if they kept wearing them.
The lawsuit also stated that employees had “commonly worn Pride flags in support of their LGBTQ+ coworkers without being disciplined by Whole Foods” and that the company’s “selective enforcement” of its dress code “constitutes unlawful discrimination.”
In October 2020, Whole Foods announced a new dress code for all employees in its stores that “banned visible logos, slogans, messages, or flags of any kind, among other things.”