Filed in July by a group of nearly 30 employees of Whole Foods, which Amazon owns and operates directly, along with one who works for Amazon, the proposed class action suit alleges discrimination and retaliation against people who wore masks in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Despite an alleged history of allowing workers to show support for other beliefs with their attire, like LGBTQ rights and the National Rifle Association, and what is claimed to be lax enforcement of a dress code, workers contend in the suit that they were reprimanded and sent home when they refused to change masks in support of Black Lives Matter. One worker was even allegedly fired for wearing such a mask and organizing other workers to do so, according to the complaint.
But Amazon, named as a defendant in the case, is arguing the suit lacks standing, namely because the plaintiff that it employs, who claims to have been sent home from work without pay for wearing a Black Lives Matter mask, did not go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission first. The multibillion dollar e-tailer said the plaintiff is required to get a letter to file suit from the EEOC before heading to the courts.
“As a threshold matter, [plaintiff’s] failure to satisfy Title VII’s prerequisites to the commencement of litigation bars her claims,” Amazon wrote in its filing, citing the Constitutional amendment on discrimination. “She has not even commenced the administrative process, let alone received a letter from the EEOC authorizing her to file a lawsuit.”
While four other Whole Foods workers have filed with the EEOC, the group said in its complaint that it went ahead and filed the lawsuit, seeking an injunction on the alleged retaliation and prohibition of BLM masks, due to the “urgent circumstances.”
The company, which employs some Prime workers in Whole Foods stores across the country, argued it is simply enforcing a dress code that applies to all workers, not singling out anyone for their race, their support of Black people, or their protesting of racial violence, as the lawsuit claims.
“Title VII protects employees from discrimination on account of their race,” Amazon wrote. “It does not confer a right to display a political or social message on an employee’s clothing.”
Amazon went on to argue that the plaintiff it employs is not arguing she was singled out because of her race, nor does she identify her race in the complaint.
“[Plaintiff’s] only purported protected conduct was the violation of a legitimate, race-neutral dress code policy,” Amazon wrote. “The EEOC’s guidance on Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision clearly provides that employees are not engaged in protected activity unless they oppose perceived employment discrimination ‘in a reasonable manner,’ and it instructs courts to balance the employee’s rights against the employer’s need for a stable and productive work environment.”
Amazon asked the court to dismiss all the claims against it “in their entirety.”
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