The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of two former Kroger grocery store employees who say they were fired after refusing to wear rainbow emblems they believed to be associated with the LGBT movement.
The EEOC issued a news release this week about the lawsuit, which accused the Kroger Company of violating a portion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The federal agency wrote that a Kroger location in Conway, Arkansas, violated federal employment law by firing two employees who sought a religious exemption from wearing the rainbow emblem.
The women were identified by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as Brenda Lawson and Trudy Rickerd.
The newspaper reported Lawson began working at the Kroger in 2011 but was fired on June 1, 2019.
Rickerd, meanwhile, began working at the store in 2006, but was reportedly fired several days before Lawson on May 29, 2019.
LGBT Pride month is celebrated in cities across the country every June.
Both women say they had told the company that wearing emblems embracing the LGBT movement would contradict their religious beliefs, but were terminated anyway.
Lawson was 72 at the time of her termination, while Rickerd was 57, the Democrat-Gazette reported, citing the lawsuit.
According to the EEOC news release, neither woman held any animosity toward people who identify with the LGBT movement, but they simply wanted to stand by their Christian principles.
Both employees, per the EEOC, also attempted to accommodate the store.
One was reportedly willing to wear the rainbow emblem apron but asked to cover up the rainbow portion.
The other asked simply to wear a different apron without a rainbow emblem, according to the suit.
“[T]he company made no attempt to accommodate their requests. When the women still refused to wear the apron with the emblem visible,” per the EEOC, “Kroger retaliated against them by disciplining and ultimately discharging them.”
The EEOC added, “Such alleged conduct violates the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
The agency filed a suit on behalf of Lawson and Rickerd in federal court Monday in the Eastern District of Arkansas after a pre-litigation settlement could not be reached.
“The suit seeks monetary relief in the form of back pay and compensatory damages, as well as an injunction against future discrimination,” the EEOC said.
Delner Franklin-Thomas, the district director of the EEOC’s Memphis District Office, which has jurisdiction over the area, issued a statement about the suit.
“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,” Franklin-Thomas said.
“The EEOC protects the rights of the LGBTQ community, but it also protects the rights of religious people,” the EEOC director added.
The Kroger Company has not commented on the lawsuit.
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