Labor board: Home Depot violated labor laws when firing employee with 'Black lives matter' on apron

NEW YORK — The nation’s labor board ruled on Wednesday that Home Depot violated federal labor laws when it discharged an employee for refusing to remove the hand-drawn “BLM”— the acronym for “Black Lives Matter” — from his work apron.

The National Labor Relations Act said it protects the legal right of employees to engage in “concerted activities” for the purpose of “mutual aid or protection” — whether or not they are represented by a union. In its ruling, the board reasoned the employee’s refusal to remove the BLM marking was “concerted” because it was a “logical outgrowth” of prior concerted employee protests about racial discrimination in their workplace and because it was an attempt to bring those group complaints to the attention of Home Depot managers.

The conduct of the employee, identified as Antonio Morales, was also “for mutual aid or protection” because the issue of racial discrimination involved employees’ working conditions, the board said.

“It is well-established that workers have the right to join together to improve their working conditions — including by protesting racial discrimination in the workplace,” said Chairman Lauren McFerran in a statement. “It is equally clear that an employee who acts individually to support a group protest regarding a workplace issue remains protected under the law.”

Home Depot, based in Atlanta, couldn’t be immediately reached for a comment.

The right to wear clothing with BLM insignia or other civil rights apparel at the workplace had been a big issue in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020.

In February 2021, a federal judge dismissed most of the claims in a lawsuit filed by Whole Foods Market employees who alleged the supermarket chain discriminated and retaliated against them when it barred them from wearing Black Lives Matter face coverings on the job. More than two dozen current and former workers from 11 stores around the country accused Whole Foods of violating Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on race and other factors, in a lawsuit filed in Boston in July 2020.

Meanwhile, American Airlines announced in 2020 that it would let employees wear Black Lives Matter pins on their uniforms, calling it a matter of equality and not politics. The company joined Starbucks, Delta Air Lines and other major companies that let employees wear items supporting the movement that protests police violence against Blacks.

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