The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that Home Depot's New Brighton Boulevard store in Minneapolis violated the law and the rights of a worker when it fired the employee for writing BLM on their orange work apron during Black History Month in 2021.

Home Depot must rehire Antonio Morales Jr., issue back pay with interest and cover any tax consequences that may result from Morales receiving a lump-sum payment, according to the order issued on Tuesday.

The NLRB ordered the store to cease from "prohibiting its employees from engaging in protected concerted activities, including by displaying BLM or Black Lives Matter markings on their aprons." The store must also post notices in the store informing workers of their rights.

A store manager said he did not know about the complaint.

Officials from Home Depot's corporate office responded to requests for comment via email saying, "We disagree with the NLRB's decision. The Home Depot is fully committed to diversity and respect for all people. We don't tolerate any kind of workplace harassment or discrimination."

Morales and other employees had complained that workers were receiving reprimands for writing notes in Spanish and were told to shadow customers of color because of theft concern. Also some employees repeatedly ripped up Black History Month posters and flash cards on display in the employee break room, according to the complaint.

Morales and other employees repeatedly complained to store managers over six months, the complaint said. Managers responded by speaking privately with one supervisor with whom several co-workers of color had problems. Managers also issued one email about conduct to workers throughout the store.

Frustrated that more wasn't done, Morales marked BLM on the work apron as a sign of support and declined to remove it when asked. Morales was fired as a result, according to the complaint.

During one 90-minute meeting with managers that was video recorded, Home Depot managers told Morales that if they allowed the apron with the BLM insignia, the company would also "have to allow employees to wear swastikas," the NLRB report said.

The Home Depot managers also argued that the BLM marking was "especially controversial" in the Minneapolis area following George Floyd's murder and that it posed a safety risk for New Brighton Boulevard store employees at the hands of customers who might object.

In rebuttals to Morales' initial complaint, Home Depot argued that allowing employees to write BLM on their aprons would constitute compelled speech and therefore violated the company's First Amendment rights.

Morales argued against that logic but was unsuccessful and was let go. Morales filed the complaint with the NLRB in March 2021.

According to transcripts, one manager said he didn't want to fire Morales but, "Unfortunately, Antonio, because it's against dress code, I can't have you work in the store if you're going to have that on your apron. ... You haven't done anything wrong, okay? Quite honestly, there's a lot of things that have not been taken care of for you that have put you in a position where I know you don't feel respected when you come to work, and that's what breaks my heart."

NLRB officials noted that given the history of events within the store, the BLM apron marking was a "concerted" activity covered under the National Labor Relations Act. "The board accordingly found that Home Depot broke the law when it conditioned the employee's continued employment on removal of the BLM marking," the ruling said.

In its 3-1 decision, the board noted that the National Labor Relations Act 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.

"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. It is equally clear that an employee who acts individually to support a group protest regarding a workplace issue remains protected under the law," NLRB Chair Lauren McFerran said in a statement.