More than three years later, Kroger agreed last week to pay $180,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Lawson and Rickerd. The supermarket chain also agreed to create a religious accommodation policy and give managers more intensive training on religious discrimination.
David Hogue, the attorney representing Lawson and Rickerd, told the Washington Post that “this lawsuit is not about casting slander or judgment” on members of the LGBTQ community, but about asserting the “right of its clients not to not be coerced into adopting or endorsing certain ways of life.”
Neither the EEOC nor Kroger immediately responded to a request for comment from The Post.
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The case stems from events in April 2019 when Kroger changed its dress code, requiring employees to wear a newly designed apron with “a rainbow heart embroidered on the upper left portion of the bib,” according to the lawsuit. of the EEOC.
The two women, who said they believe in literal interpretations of the Bible and that “homosexuality is a sin,” presumed the new logo represented support and endorsement from the LGBTQ community, the lawsuit says.
“Although Lawson personally holds no animosity towards the individuals who make up the LGBTQ community, the practices of this community violate his sincere religious belief,” the lawsuit states. “Lawson thought wearing the logo showed her advocacy for the community, which she couldn’t do.”
In court documents, the chain said the multicolored heart represented the supermarket’s new “Kroger’s Promise” marketing campaign. The four colors of the heart – blue, yellow, red and light blue – represented the chain’s promises to provide customers with friendly and attentive service, to provide them with fresh products, to rise in every way and to improving every day, the company said.
Kroger described the heart as a “non-religious trademark symbol of promise”.
“Notably, the symbol is not a rainbow and only includes four colors,” the company said in its response to the EEOC allegations.
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Lawson, who had worked in Kroger’s deli department since 2011, and Rickerd, as a cashier and file clerk since 2006, asked their store manager for exemptions several times in the weeks following the change in management. uniform, according to the EEOC. Lawson requested that she be allowed to wear her name tag over the heart logo. Rickerd refused to wear the apron provided by the store, but offered to buy his own apron at his expense.
When they were turned down, the two women appealed in writing to company officials.
Meanwhile, when Lawson was working, she either refused to wear the apron or wore it with her name tag covering the heart logo. Rickerd did not wear it.
Instead of granting exemption requests, Kroger has repeatedly disciplined the women for violating the supermarket chain’s dress code. On May 29, 2019, Kroger fired Rickerd, who was 57 at the time. Three days later, the company fired Lawson, then 72 years old.
Kroger in court documents said he fired the women for “repeated insubordination and failure to adhere to uniform policy.”
The EEOC filed a lawsuit in September 2020, claiming that Kroger violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After spending more than two years jousting in dueling court cases, the EEOC announced Thursday that he had reached an agreement that would end the affair.
Hogue said his customers’ refusal to wear what they believed to be an LGBTQ-themed logo was not born out of hate.
“A lot of people can look at this story and think of Ms. Lawson, Ms. Rickerd and myself, that we are these LGBTQ haters,” Hogue said. “But we all have friends and loved ones – even family members – who fall into this category.”