The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit on Monday against Kroger for violating civil rights laws when it fired two employees who refused to wear an LGBTQ heart emblem on their uniforms.
In 2019, Kroger – the nation’s largest supermarket by revenue, and second-largest general retailer – mandated that its employees wear a new apron emblazoned with a rainbow-colored heart in the top-left corner.
Brenda Lawson and Trudy Rickerd – employees with 24 years of experience at Kroger between them – objected to wearing the new uniform because it contradicted their religious beliefs.
“The women believed the emblem endorsed LGBTQ values and that wearing it would violate their religious beliefs,” states the EEOC press release from Tuesday.
The rainbow symbol has long been used by the LGBTQ movement as its banner, although Kroger has declined to confirm whether that was the intent of their uniform.
Both women offered alternatives, such as wearing the apron with the emblem covered by a name tag, or wearing a different Kroger apron altogether. Kroger refused their accommodation requests, and they were fired in the spring of 2019.
Lawson had been working in the deli department since 2011, and Rickerd as a cashier and file maintenance clerk since 2006. They were fired on June 1st, 2019 and May 29, 2019 respectively.
“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,” wrote Rickerd in a letter that is being used in the lawsuit. “I am happy to buy another apron to ensure there is no financial hardship on Kroger.”
The lawsuit argues that Kroger has violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin,” and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
According to the EEOC press release, “The suit seeks monetary relief in the form of back pay and compensatory damages, as well as an injunction against future discrimination.”
The press release also quoted Delner-Franklin Thomas, the district director of the EEOC’s Memphis office, which has jurisdiction over the case:
“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. The EEOC protects the rights of the LGBTQ community, but it also protects the rights of religious people.”
“We cannot comment on pending litigation,” is all Kroger has released at this time.