Starbucks fired Christian employee for refusal to wear LGBT ‘Pride’ T-shirt, lawsuit claims

A cup of Starbucks coffee sits on a table in a cafe in central Hong Kong January 16, 2011.
A cup of Starbucks coffee sits on a table in a cafe in central Hong Kong January 16, 2011. | Reuters/Joel Boh

A Christian woman in New Jersey has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Starbucks, claiming the coffee chain fired her after she refused to wear an LGBT “Pride” T-shirt because of her religious beliefs.

Betsy Fresse began her employment with Starbucks by working as a barista at a store in Hoboken. Her manager at the time was aware of her Christian faith and was accommodating, but she was later transferred to work at a Starbucks in Glen Ridge, according to NBC News.

She claims that in June 2019, she saw a box of Starbucks Pride T-shirts on the floor in the store manager’s office during a meeting, so she asked if she, too, would be asked to wear one, and the manager said she wouldn’t have to, according to the lawsuit filed on Nov. 19 in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

However, a district manager told her a month later that her employment had been terminated, according to the lawsuit filed on Nov. 19, the New York Post reported

"A notice of separation from Starbucks cited in the filing said Fresse was fired for violating the company’s 'core values,' and that she said her colleagues 'need Jesus' when she was given the T-shirt" but refused to wear it, the NY Post said. 

Fresse's lawsuit alleges she was unlawfully discriminated against. She's seeking backpay, punitive damages and payment of her attorneys’ fees as well as a permanent injunction preventing Starbucks from “failing to accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs” of employees.

A Starbucks spokesman was quoted as saying that Fresse’s claims are “without merit” and the company would counter her claims in court. 

“We are very aware of the claims by Mrs. Fresse, which are without merit and we are fully prepared to present our case in court,” a Starbucks spokesman told the NY Post. “Specific to our dress code, other than our green apron, no part of our dress code requires partners to wear any approved items that they have not personally selected.”

Fresse’s lawsuit, however, states that before her termination, Starbucks’ ethics and compliance helpline contacted her in response to her request to be exempt from wearing the Pride T-shirt. At that time, she explained her opposition to wearing the LGBT T-shirt was "because her religious beliefs prevented her from doing so." 

Weeks later, on Aug. 22, 2019, she was told she was being terminated because “her comportment was not in compliance with Starbucks’ core values.”

The suit adds that Starbucks mandating that Fresse wear an LGBT Pride T-shirt as a requirement of her employment “would be tantamount to forced speech and inaccurately show her advocacy of a lifestyle in direct contradiction to her religious beliefs.”

Fresse also said in the lawsuit that “all people need Jesus” and that Christians are called “to express in word and deeds Christ’s love for everyone.”

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