Whole Foods sued by current, former employees over dress code

Whole Foods Market Berkeley
Cesar Ruiz/Staff
Whole Foods is facing a class-action lawsuit, as former and current employees allege that the company terminated workers or made them feel unwelcome for wearing attire supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Current and former Whole Foods employees filed a class-action lawsuit Monday against the company for allegedly barring them from wearing Black Lives Matter attire at work.

Some of the plaintiffs, including Ana Belén Del Rio-Ramirez, a former employee of the Telegraph Avenue Whole Foods, allege that they were terminated for their attire, or that they left their jobs because they no longer felt welcome. Whole Foods said in a statement, however, that it did not terminate any employees for wearing Black Lives Matter apparel.

“They’re being forced to choose between their jobs and their livelihoods, and what matters to them and what they believe in,” alleged Shannon Liss-Riordan, one of the attorneys of the lawsuit. “They shouldn’t be required to make that kind of a choice.”

Belén Del Rio-Ramirez alleged that she was asked to take off her Black Lives Matter pin. She has since left the job as a result of “feeling unwelcome in the workplace,” according to the lawsuit.

Savannah Kinzer, a plaintiff of the lawsuit and former employee of a Whole Foods location in Cambridge, Massachusetts, walked out of the store with other co-workers because they were allegedly told they would have to leave if they did not change their Black Lives Matter masks, which Kinzer had supplied. The employees’ walkouts continued for a few days, according to Kinzer.

“This is so beyond masks, you know. It’s way past that at this point,” Kinzer said. “We want to be able to explicitly support our Black co-workers and our Black community members during this time of turmoil in our nation.”

The lawsuit alleges that Kinzer was terminated as disciplinary action for wearing the Black Lives Matter mask and organizing co-workers to do so as well.

According to Whole Foods, however, Kinzer was terminated for repeated violations of the company’s time and attendance policy.

“It is simply untrue that she was separated from the company for wearing a Black Lives Matter face mask,” Whole Foods said in a statement. “As an employer we must uphold our policies in an equitable and consistent manner.”

The company’s dress code states that employees cannot wear apparel containing visible advertising, slogans, messages or logos that are not associated with Whole Foods.

The policies are created to ensure a focus on operational safety and customer service, according to the statement. Disciplinary action in response to policy violations “is standard business practice and requires consistency,” the statement adds.

The lawsuit, however, alleges that this policy has been enforced inconsistently, as employees have previously been allowed to wear similar items, including attire that supports the LGBTQ+ community, without repercussions.

The plaintiffs are seeking reimbursement for lost wages and the expungement of any disciplinary action taken. They are also calling for the removal of the policy that prohibits wearing attire with messages not related to Whole Foods.

Contact Emma Rooholfada at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @erooholfada_dc.