The plaintiffs’ say their “strongly held” religious beliefs prevent them from expressing support for gay or lesbian Americans.
Kroger is being sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission following complaints by two Arkansas employees that the corporation fired them for refusing to wear pro-LGBT aprons.
According to the Cincinnati Business Courier, the lawsuit was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Arkansas.
The complaint alleges that Kroger, a Ohio-based produce company, broke federal law in attempting to coerce two Conway, Arkansas workers into wearing politically sensitive apparel.
The Courier notes that Kroger—which has long expressed its support for the LGBT community—requested that its Conway-area employees wear aprons emblazoned with a small rainbow pattern. That pattern, states the lawsuit, both symbolizes and expresses support for gay, lesbian, and transgender people.
However, plaintiffs Brenda Lawson and Trudy Rickerd argue that, as devout Christians, they cannot endorse endorse any form of homosexuality.
In their lawsuit, the two explain how they believe in a “literal interpretation of the Bible” and therefore maintain “a sincerely held religious belief that homosexuality is a sin.”
Lawson, who is in her early seventies, had asked Kroger to accommodate her religious inclinations by allowing her to cover the rainbow pattern with her name tag. However, the store’s management refused her request. They later disciplined her for dress code violations, following subsequent refusals to display the logo.
Rickerd, adds the Courier, similarly asked whether he could cover the rainbow pattern or wear a different apron.
Her request, too, was refused, even following numerous attempts to persuade the store’s managers of the validity of her request.
“I have a sincerely held religious belief that I cannot wear a symbol that promotes or endorses something that is in violation of my religious faith,” Rickerd wrote in a 2019 letter to her supervisors. “I respect others who have a different opinion and am happy to work alongside others who desire to wear the symbol. I am happy to buy another apron to ensure there is no financial hardship on Kroger.”
Rickerd was disciplined for dress code violations, then fired for non-compliance.
Both employees, says the Courier, had been working with Kroger for years.
Interestingly, Rickerd and Lawson say that, while Kroger fired them, it accommodated other employees with similar objections.
“Defendant Kroger did not discharge other employees in the workplace who did not request a religious accommodation but who simply declined to wear the new apron or who covered the logo,” the lawsuit states.
Delner-Franklin Thomas, head of the EEOC’s Memphis District Office, said the Commission is taking up the case as it is obligated to protect both the rights of the LGBTQ community and religious people alike.
“Companies have an obligation under Title VII to consider requests for religious accommodations, and it is illegal to terminate employees for requesting an accommodation for their religious beliefs,” Thomas said. “The EEOC protects the rights of the LGBTQ community, but it also protects the rights of religious people.”