February 4, 2023

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A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit brought by three former Whole Foods employees who said they were illegally fired for defying the upscale grocery chain’s alleged discriminatory discipline against workers who wore “Black Lives Matter” masks.

US District Judge Allison Burroughs in Boston, in a 28-page decision, found little evidence to refute Whole Foods’ “legitimate business explanations” for strict dress code enforcement and no significant evidence it targeted the plaintiffs by dismissing them in the summer of 2020.

“The evidence only shows that Whole Foods did not vigorously enforce the dress code policy as of mid-2020, and that when it increased enforcement, it did so consistently,” she added.

Whole Foods, part of Amazon.com Inc., has long maintained that it consistently enforced its dress code and intended the code – which also includes visible slogans, logos and advertisements – to promote a welcoming and safe shopping environment.

“This holding isn’t about the importance of the Black Lives Matter message, the value of the plaintiffs’ advocacy for wearing the masks, the bravery with which they speak out against what they perceive to be discrimination in their workplace, or the quality of Whole Foods. decision-making,” Burroughs wrote.

Burroughs said the three former employees, Haley Evans, Savannah Kinzer and Christopher Michno, could not claim protection from retaliation under Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Whole Foods did not immediately respond to similar requests.

Last June, the Boston Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Burroughs’ February 2021 dismissal of a proposed dress code class action lawsuit on slightly different legal grounds than hers.

Related: Full-time workers lose appeal over ‘Black Lives Matter’ masks

The Black Lives Matter movement began after police killed several black people across the United States.

A video showing the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in May 2020 sparked nationwide protests against racial injustice.

Whole Foods had employed Evans in a store in Marlton, New Jersey, while Kinzer worked in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Michno in Berkeley, California.

The case is Kinzer et al v. Whole Foods Market Inc, US District Court, Massachusetts District, No. 20-11358.

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