The Controversial Home Depot Case That Got Thrown Out Of Court

By Charlene Badasie | 1 week ago

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After the tragic murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police in 2020, several companies aligned themselves with the Black Lives Matter movement. The very visible public support was a shift from the more careful stances that many brands took in the past. But some corporations have dress codes barring employees from displaying unauthorized logos on their person. Some have even been accused of penalizing those who do. In one instance, Home Depot came under fire for allegedly forcing a staffer to quit after he wore the BLM slogan on his uniform.

According to a complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board last August, Home Depot threatened to punish employees who tried to show their support for the BLM movement. The agency also accused the company of discriminating against the employee at the center of the controversy for talking to other staff and managers about racial harassment there. A year after the complaint was filed, a federal judge ruled to dismiss the case, stating that workers do not have the right to wear Black Lives Matter merchandise or imagery while on the job.

In his ruling, NLRB Judge Paul Bogas said that the plaintiffs had not sufficiently reasoned their argument. “To meet the standard of concerted activity, the prohibited messaging has to be a group effort and a means of improving working conditions,” he said via NPR. Instead, he said the record shows that the message was primarily used to address the unjustified killings of black individuals by law enforcement. And while it remains a matter of profound societal importance, is not directly relevant to the terms, and conditions of Home Depot’s employees.

Interestingly, Home Depot does encourage employees to personalize their aprons with names, doodles, and other additions. Judge Bogas acknowledged this fact during his ruling, saying that the additions employees make to the aprons are sometimes extensive. The employee, who worked at the store from August 2020 to February 2021, wore the slogan on his apron for the duration of his employment. It was Floyd’s death coupled with racist behavior from a coworker (like making stereotypical remarks and being unhelpful to Black and Hispanic customers) that pushed him to wear the Black Lives Matter logo on his apron.

“It’s a symbol of alliance,” the Home Depot employee testified. “I have never seen it as something political myself. It’s something that I put on so that people know to approach me. I am a person of color myself, so it’s a form of solidarity. It’s a way for people to feel safe around me,” he said via NPR. While the company did not respond to the final ruling, at the time of the filing the retailer said it does not tolerate workplace harassment of any kind and takes all reports of discrimination or harassment seriously.

Additionally, Home Depot said that while it disagrees with the characterization of this situation it looks forward to sharing the facts during the NLRB’s process. “Regardless of the outcome, we will continue to be fully committed to diversity and respect for all people,” the chain said via Fox Business. It’s worth noting that rulings passed down by agency judges can be appealed to the labor board in Washington, D.C., Bloomberg reports.