Kroger sued for allegedly firing workers who refused to wear apron with rainbow symbol
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Supermarket chain Kroger was sued in federal court this week after two former employees claimed they were wrongfully terminated for refusing to wear an apron with a rainbow symbol because of their religious beliefs. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal agency that enforces laws prohibiting workplace discrimination, filed the lawsuit on Monday on behalf of ex-workers Brenda Lawson and Trudy Rickerd, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported.

Lawson had worked in the deli department of the Conway, Ark., store since August 2011. Rickerd had been a cashier and file maintenance clerk since October 2006.

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Kroger reportedly implemented a new dress code in April 2019 that required employees to wear an apron featuring an embroidered rainbow heart. 

Rainbow designs have long been recognized as a symbol of the LGBTQ community and June Pride Month. It is unclear whether the symbol was intended for pride purposes, the outlet noted. 

The lawsuit states that both women “believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible” and “hold a sincerely held religious belief that homosexuality is a sin.” Lawson and Rickerd each “believed wearing the logo showed her advocacy of the [LGBTQ] community, which she could not do," according to the complaint. 

Lawson reportedly asked for a religious exemption and offered to cover up the heart, located in the upper left corner of the apron, with her name tag. 

Rickerd submitted a handwritten letter asking permission to wear a different apron, according to the complaint.

"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. ... I respect others who have a different opinion and am happy to work alongside others who desire to wear the symbol,” she wrote in the letter, quoted in the EEOC complaint. “I am happy to buy another apron to ensure there is no financial hardship on Kroger."

Their requests were denied by management, according to the complaint. Rickerd was fired on May 29, 2019, at the age of 57 for violating the dress code. Lawson was terminated for the same thing on June 1, 2019, at age 72.

The agency’s lawsuit argues that Lawson and Rickerd were retaliated against, stating other Kroger employees who simply did not wear the apron or who covered the heart symbol were not disciplined.

The EEOC alleges in the lawsuit that Kroger violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 twice by refusing to accept their religious accommodations and by illegally retaliating against them.

The lawsuit requests an injunction barring the grocery chain from future “unlawful employment practices." The commission is also seeking "appropriate backpay" for the two former employees and other relief, including possible reinstatement, as well as punitive damages.

Kroger, based out of Ohio, operates locations in 35 states. Earlier this year, it was named as one of the best places to work for LGBTQ equality by the Human Rights Campaign for the second year in a row.

"Kroger is extremely proud that HRC has once again recognized our unwavering commitment to promoting and celebrating diversity, inclusion and belonging across our company, our industry and our communities," said Tim Massa, Kroger's senior vice president and chief people officer, at the time.

"This recognition reinforces the people-first, inclusive culture that we've built at Kroger. It's also a testament to the LGBTQ associates and allies who have shown us what we do well and where we can improve," he said.

The Hill has reached out to the company for comment.