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Kroger will pay $180K to employees fired for refusing 'rainbow' logos on their uniforms

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The supermarket chain Kroger will create a religious accommodation policy and implement new training for store management after settling a lawsuit from two former employees who objected to wearing a logo they believed signaled support for the LGBT community. 

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which filed the suit on behalf of the two employees, announced that Kroger Limited Partnership I agreed to pay $180,000 to settle the lawsuit. The Ohio-based entity is one of the subsidiaries of the Kroger corporation.

The EEOC tried to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement prior to filing the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Central Division, in 2020. Both parties agreed to resolve the case to avoid accruing further legal costs and any confusion related to future litigation. 

"The EEOC commends Kroger on its decision to create a policy describing the process for requesting a religious accommodation," Faye A. Williams, regional attorney of the EEOC's Memphis District Office, said in a statement. 

"This policy will provide guidelines for requesting religious accommodation. The parties in the case worked in good faith to resolve this matter, and the Commission is pleased with the resolution."

Kroger did not immediately respond to The Christian Post's request for comment.

The EEOC accused Kroger of violating federal law by firing and failing to make accommodations for the two employees who felt a logo on new company aprons violated their religious convictions.

The lawsuit describes how an Arkansas-based Kroger store required employees to wear an apron with what has been deemed a rainbow-colored heart on the bib. Although the heart only consists of four colors, the employees believed the symbol signified support for the LGBT community. Kroger contends that the logo carries no attachment to LGBT causes. 

According to the lawsuit, one of the women agreed to wear the apron with the emblem covered, and the other offered to wear an apron without the emblem. The company allegedly refused to accommodate the two women, firing them for refusing to wear the apron without the emblem covered.  

"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," Delner Franklin-Thomas, district director of the EEOC's Memphis office, said in a statement.

"The EEOC protects the rights of the LGBTQ community, but it also protects the rights of religious people."   

In July, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Lansing, Michigan, accusing the city of discriminating against a worker's religious beliefs.

The DOJ claimed the city violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. 

According to the complaint, Lansing failed to accommodate its employee Sylvia Coleman, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, when she asked not to work from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday for religious reasons. 

The employee began working as a detention officer for the city's police department in early 2018, explaining from the onset that she could not work sundown Friday to sundown on Saturday. Shortly after she was hired, Coleman was scheduled to work a 12-hour shift Saturday, and requested that she be allowed to work an overnight shift instead. 

"Prior to terminating Coleman's employment, Lansing management didn't establish that accommodating Coleman would cause undue hardship on the conduct of its operations," the complaint reads. 

"Coleman suffered emotional distress, pain and suffering, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, humiliation, and other non-pecuniary damages as a result of Lansing's discriminatory actions. … Coleman suffered monetary loss as a result of Lansing's discriminatory actions."

The complaint alleges that the city refused to allow her to switch to another shift and eventually terminated her employment. Coleman filed a charge with the EEOC in July 2018, which agreed the employee had "reasonable cause" for a discrimination suit and referred the case to the DOJ.

"Employees should not have to choose between their religion and their livelihood, particularly when the employer can accommodate their religious beliefs," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division said in a July statement.

"The Civil Rights Division is committed to protecting the religious rights and religious freedom of employees by ensuring that no one faces unlawful discrimination in the workplace."

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: samantha.kamman@christianpost.com.

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