Lawsuit claims Starbucks employee fired for stance on religion

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A former Starbucks employee in New Jersey has sued the popular coffee chain, saying she was fired for refusing to wear a company-issued Pride T-shirt that went against her religious beliefs.

»SEPTEMBER: Lawsuit claims Kroger fired women who refused to wear rainbow aprons

The lawsuit, seeking back pay with interest, compensation for emotional pain and suffering and punitive damages, was filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, according to NBC News.

A Starbucks representative told the network the lawsuit’s claims were meritless and that the company looks forward to its day in court.

“Starbucks does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation,” the spokesperson said in an email.

»MORE: 52 former Black franchisees sue McDonald’s, claiming racial discrimination

On its website, the company states a commitment “to upholding a culture where inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility are valued and respected.”

The spokesperson added that, aside from the chain’s familiar green aprons, “no part of our dress code requires partners to wear any approved items that they have not personally selected.”

In the court filing, however, Betsy Fresse claims the Pride shirt was a requirement “tantamount to forced speech and inaccurately show her advocacy of a lifestyle in direct contradiction to her religious beliefs.”

Fresse informed the Hoboken store’s managers about her faith when she was hired as a barista in 2018, NBC reported. Periodically she would ask for Sundays and evenings off so she could attend church.

After a few months on the job, Fresse was transferred to another Starbucks in Glen Ridge, where she and other employees reportedly met with the store manager in June 2019. Inside the meeting room was a box full of Starbucks Pride T-shirts. Feeling concerned, Fresse said she approached the manager after the meeting and was reportedly told that she would not be required to wear one.

»JUNE: Starbucks allows Black Lives Matter attire after social media backlash

Several weeks later, a representative in the Starbucks compliance department reached out to her about the matter, the lawsuit states, and during the conversation Fresse explained she couldn’t wear the garment “because her religious beliefs prevented her from doing so.”

Then on Aug. 22, 2019, Fresse said management informed her that she was being let go because “her comportment was not in compliance with Starbucks’ core values.”

A termination notice given to Fresse said she had actually been given the Pride shirt and that she refused to put it on and then stated her co-workers “need Jesus,” according to NBC.

In the suit, Fresse said she meant no harm by her statement, adding that “all people need Jesus” and that Christians are called “to express in word and deeds Christ’s love for everyone,” NBC reported.

Fresse also maintains she was a good employee who served all customers with respect and that she “holds no enmity toward individuals who ascribe to the LGBTQ lifestyle.”

Fresse believes “that God created man and woman, that marriage is defined in the Bible as between one man and one woman only, and that any sexual activity which takes place outside of this context is contrary to her understanding of Biblical teaching,” the lawsuit states.

Fresse said she went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February and filed a complaint, clearing the way for her to file the lawsuit in August.

In a similar case in September, two former Kroger employees filed a federal lawsuit against the supermarket chain, claiming they were fired for refusing to wear an apron stitched with a rainbow symbol, according to reports.

Brenda Lawson, 72, and Trudy Rickerd, 57, allege they were disciplined and terminated from a Kroger store in Conway, Arkansas, last spring after they refused to wear the aprons embroidered with a rainbow heart on the bib.

The women said they regarded the aprons as an “endorsement of the LGBTQ community” and refused to wear them based on their Christian beliefs, NBC News reported. The suit also states that both women asked to cover up the symbols with their name tags but were denied.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex and national origin.”