A Publix worker quit after the grocer refused to let him wear a "Black Lives Matter" face mask on the job, highlighting the tension between retailers who typically prefer to avoid political and social messaging in stores and workers who want to show their support for protests against police brutality.
Eighteen-year-old Quinton Desamours, a service clerk at a Publix in Florida, told FOX Business that he brought the mask with the "BLM" logo to work on June 6 and was told by a manager that he couldn't wear it on the floor because he would be endangering himself and "everybody else who worked there."
His situation is only the latest example of the complexities arising from a nationwide movement for racial justice re-energized by the death of George Floyd, a black man in police custody in Minneapolis, just as the nation begins emerging from lockdowns intended to curb a coronavirus pandemic.
Seattle-based coffeehouse chain Starbucks adjusted its dress code only last week to allow Black Lives Matter T-shirts and pins after complaints that it prohibited employees from wearing them.
Prior to its reversal on its apparel policies, the company had notified employees that it would stick by a longstanding policy barring clothing with political or personal slogans.
Desamours' encounter with a similar policy at Publix began with a manager who said he personally supports the movement but didn't know whether the company was "pro or con" toward it.
Desamours, who decided to go home afterward, called a few days later to tell his employer he didn't want to work for a company that isn't committed to being part of the change.
"I hear this quote all the time, especially when protests started, that change doesn't come until the people unaffected are just as upset as the people who are," Desamours said.
To show support for Black Lives Matter and nationwide protests, many people have begun wearing face masks, shirts, pins and other apparel with the movement logo. Corporate executives have also embraced the cause with supportive statements and, in some cases, policy changes.
Following the incident with Desamours, Publix CEO Todd Jones' announced in an open letter that the grocery rejects "racism and discrimination of any kind." The letter further states: "With over 220,000 associates, we benefit from being an inclusive company made up of individuals who look and think differently, with backgrounds from around the country and around the world."
The letter was released in conjunction with the company's announcement that it was donating $1 million to southeastern affiliates of the National Urban League, a prominent civil rights group based in New York City.
The store where Desamours worked referred questions to the corporate office.
"At Publix, we reject racism and believe diversity makes our company - and our community - better," Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous told Fox Business. "Our focus remains on ensuring a welcoming work and shopping environment for all associates and customers."
Employees are required to wear approved face coverings include medical/surgical masks, dust masks, and Publix-issued, Publix-branded or solid-color face coverings. The company's policy does not permit non-Publix messaging on clothing or accessories, Brous said.
But if the BLM logo "makes people uncomfortable, then in my book, that's a win because we have to make people uncomfortable," Desamours said."People have been comfortable for too long, and that's why we are still dealing with the problems that we are."
By June 9, Desamours said, he had received an apology from a Publix district manager and had been told his job was still available to him if he wanted it. It was an offer he politely declined.
"It was never political for me," Desamours added, but about "black people wanting simple rights and equality."
"That's what people are still marching for," he said.
This story has been updated to include comments from Publix