NLRB: Home Depot broke law in banning ‘BLM’ from worker’s apron

Federal agency sides with worker fired after refusing to remove Black Lives Matter reference. Home Depot says it does not tolerate discrimination

The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that Home Depot violated a Minneapolis-area worker’s rights when it forbid him from wearing a reference to Black Lives Matter on his apron while on the job.

In 2021, the Vinings-based retail giant ordered Antonio Morales Jr. to remove the letters “BLM,” but he did not obey. He was let go, according to an NLRB statement concerning the decision issued last week.

A spokesman for Home Depot said the company thinks the NLRB made the wrong call.

“I can tell you we disagree with the NLRB’s decision,” Terrance Roper said.

The company can go to court to appeal the NLRB decision. It could offer Morales his job back. But as of Monday afternoon, no decision had been made about how to respond to the NLRB, Roper said.

“At this time, I can say we’re reviewing the full opinion,” Roper said.

In making the decision, the NLRB concluded that Morales’ use of BLM was aimed at the purpose of “mutual aid or protection,” action by employees that is protected whether or not those workers are represented by a union.

The BLM marking was an extension 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,” according to a statement by the NLRB.

“Mutual aid or protection” by employees was protected by the law, the board said, because it was a response to alleged racial discrimination at Home Depot.

“When an employer interferes with employees’ right to display protected insignia like the BLM marking in this case, that interference is presumptively unlawful,” a statement from the NLRB said.

To defend action against an employee, “the employer has the burden to establish special circumstances that make the rule necessary,” and Home Depot did not demonstrate those special circumstances, 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 NLRB Chairwoman 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.”

The company maintains that it is opposed to bias as a matter of policy, Roper said.

“The Home Depot is fully committed to diversity and respect for all people,” he said. “We don’t tolerate any kind of workplace harassment or discrimination.”

The NLRB, was created to enforce the National Labor Relations Act, also known as the Wagner Act, which was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935.

It was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court two years later. That decision was something of a surprise, coming after several years in which a conservative court had rejected much of the New Deal.

More than eight decades later, some business interests are again taking aim at the law. Both SpaceX and Amazon have cases in the courts in which they argue that the National Labor Relations Act was unconstitutional.