Grocery retail giant Kroger has been accused of violating the civil rights of two women when it allegedly fired them for refusing to wear a store apron emblazoned with a message supporting the LGBTQ community.
The Miami Herald reports the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court against Kroger Co. on behalf of Brenda Lawson and Trudy Rickerd, two former employees in Arkansas who said they believe homosexuality is a sin.
The two women worked at a Kroger store located in Conway, Arkansas located just north of Little Rock until mid-2019, according to the court documents. Lawson worked at the location for almost 8 years, while Rickerd had been a store employee for 13 years.
"(Kroger) refused to accommodate the religious beliefs of Lawson and Rickerd, and disciplined and terminated them because of their religious beliefs and in retaliation for requesting a religious accommodation," the EEOC said in the complaint.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discriminatory employment practices on the basis of religion.
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In 2019, the store ordered its employees to wear an apron with a rainbow heart embroidered on it, according to the lawsuit. The logo was a show of support for the LGBTQ community, the EEOC said.
"Although (Lawson and Rickerd) personally holds no animosity toward the individuals who comprise the LGBTQ community, the practices of that community violate (their) sincerely held religious belief," the lawsuit states. "(Lawson and Rickerd) believed wearing the logo showed (their) advocacy of the community, which (they) could not do," the EEOC continued.
According to the complaint, both women asked the store manager in writing if they could be exempted from wearing the apron.
"I respect others who have a different opinion and am happy to work alongside others who desire to wear the symbol," Rickerd wrote in a letter. "I am happy to buy another apron to ensure there is no financial hardship on Kroger."
But the EEOC said both women's requests were denied. Both were terminated just a few days apart by the store midway through 2019 for violating the store's dress code.
Lawson and Rickerd hold "sincerely held religious beliefs that homosexuality is a sin," the EEOC said in the complaint.
Based in Ohio, Kroger is a grocery store chain with locations in 35 states. It was heralded for being pro-LGBTQ by the Human Rights Campaign. The company also received a perfect score on the 2020 Corporate Equality Index, according to its website.
"At The Kroger Co., we embrace diversity and inclusion as core values, and we ingrain these in everything we do," the website for Kroger Pride reads.
A spokesperson for Kroger did not respond to the newspaper's request for comment.
The EEOC alleges Kroger violated the Civil Rights Act by refusing the women's request for a religious accommodation and unlawfully retaliating against them. They are seeking an injunction barring the grocery chain from future discriminatory practices, back pay, relocation and job search expenses, compensation for emotional pain and suffering, and punitive damages, according to the Herald.