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Home Depot Wins Ruling Rejecting Right to Wear BLM at Work (1)

June 10, 2022, 9:25 PM

A complaint by US labor board prosecutors against Home Depot Inc. -- for allegedly interfering with workers’ rights to protest against racial harassment -- should be dismissed, an agency judge ruled Friday.

The US National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel had alleged that the company violated federal labor law by preventing staff from displaying the message “Black Lives Matter” on their aprons, as well as by threatening and punishing employees to discourage collective action.

The NLRB declined to comment. A representative for Home Depot didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry. The Atlanta-based home-improvement retailer has said that the agency “misrepresents the relevant facts” and that it is “fully committed to diversity and respect for all people.”

Federal labor law protects the right of employees, with or without a union, to engage in collective action about workplace conditions. In the Home Depot case, and another against Amazon.com Inc.’s Whole Foods Market, the agency’s general counsel argued that employers violated that law by prohibiting staff from wearing Black Lives Matter messages on their clothing.

In his ruling Friday, administrative law judge Paul Bogas wrote that Black Lives Matter messaging lacked “an objective, and sufficiently direct, relationship to terms and conditions of employment” to be legally protected.

The message “originated, and is primarily used, to address the unjustified killings of Black individuals by law enforcement and vigilantes,” he wrote. “To the extent the message is being used for reasons beyond that, it operates as a political umbrella for societal concerns and relates to the workplace only in the sense that workplaces are part of society.”

Whole Foods has denied wrongdoing in its case, which is being considered at an ongoing trial by a San Francisco-based agency judge.

Agency judges’ rulings can be appealed to the labor board members based in Washington, among whom Democrats now hold a majority, and from there into federal court.

(Updates to include details on the ruling.)

To contact the reporter on this story:
Josh Eidelson in Palo Alto at jeidelson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
John J. Edwards III at jedwardsiii1@bloomberg.net

Jonathan Roeder

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