Two former employees of grocery store giant Kroger have filed a lawsuit against the company for allegedly violating the Civil Rights Act when it fired them who did not want to wear a store apron with a heart design which they believe signals support for the LGBTQ community.
In 2019, Kroger reportedly instituted a change in its employee dress code policy that mandated workers wear a new apron with a “rainbow heart” embroidered on it. But two employees at a Kroger store in Conway, Arkansas — Brenda Lawson, 73, and Trudy Rickerd, 58 — believed that the logo was intended to show support for the LGBTQ community — even though it does not contain all the colors of the rainbow Pride flag.
Due to those beliefs, Lawson, who worked in the deli department, and Rickerd, who worked as a cashier and file maintenance clerk, refused to wear the apron, citing their opposition to homosexuality and belief that it is a sin. Lawson asked if she could wear her name tag over the logo and submitted multiple requests seeking an exemption. Rickerd submitted a handwritten letter asking permission to wear a different apron, even offering to purchase her own instead of having Kroger pay for it.
Both women’s requests were denied. Rickerd was fired on May 29, 2019, for allegedly violating the dress code, and Lawson was fired for similar reasons on June 1, 2019. The women filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has since filed a lawsuit on the women’s behalf, alleging that their firings violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.
In its complaint, the EEOC alleges that Kroger violated Lawson and Rickerd’s rights by refusing to accommodate their religious beliefs, and then unlawfully retaliated against them by firing them for violating the dress code. The lawsuit also claims that Kroger did not fire other employees who refused to wear the apron without citing their religious beliefs.
The EEOC is seeking an injunction barring Kroger from discriminating against employees with similar beliefs. The lawsuit also requests back pay, reimbursement for relocation and job search expenses, compensation for emotional pain and suffering, and punitive damages, reports NBC News.
Kroger was deemed one of the best places to work for LGBTQ equality in 2020 by the Human Rights Campaign with a perfect score on the Corporate Equality Index, according to its website. The company has previously committed to embracing diversity and inclusion, and creating a safe environment for any of its LGBTQ employees. But the company has declined to confirm whether the symbol was actually intended to communicate its support for LGBTQ rights, as the women allege.
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