Kroger has been hit with an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit this week after two employees at an Arkansas store were fired for refusing to wear an apron with a pro-LGBT rainbow heart emblem, something the former employees say violated their sincere religious beliefs.
According to a news release, the commission filed a lawsuit against the regional supermarket chain on Monday in response to the termination of Brenda Lawson and Trudy Rickerd by Kroger Store No. 625 in Conway, Arkansas.
The EEOC complaint comes more than a year after both women were fired. Lawson worked in the deli department at the store from 2011 until her termination on June 1, 2019, while Rickerd, worked as a cashier and file maintenance clerk from 2006 until her termination on May 29, 2019, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.
The EEOC also reported that “one woman offered to wear the apron with the emblem covered and the other offered to wear a different apron without the emblem, but the company made no attempt to accommodate their requests.”
The complaint quoted a letter written by Rickerd explaining why she could not wear the apron.
“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, adding that she was “happy to buy another apron to ensure there is no financial hardship on Kroger.”
When the women continued to refuse to wear the apron, the EEOC went on, “Kroger retaliated against them by disciplining and ultimately discharging them.”
In so doing, the EEOC argues, Kroger violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Through the lawsuit, the commission now looks to secure “monetary relief in the form of back pay and compensatory damages” for Lawson and Rickerd “as well as an injunction against future discrimination.”
“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,” said district director of the EEOC’s Memphis office Delner-Franklin Thomas. “The EEOC protects the rights of the LGBTQ community, but it also protects the rights of religious people.”
It appears that this is not the first time Kroger has landed in hot water with the EEOC. Last year, the agency reported that Kroger had to pay $40,000 to settle a disability discrimination suit after a visually impaired new hire was fired on the spot after requesting accommodation for a portion of his orientation done on the computer.
At this time, the Christian Post reports, Kroger has refused to comment on the pending litigation.
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