Kroger, one of the country's largest supermarket chains, is being sued in federal court after two former employees claimed they were wrongfully terminated for refusing to wear an apron with a rainbow symbol.
The ex-employees, who identify as Christian, cited religious objections in their refusal to wear what they believed was an "endorsement of the LGBTQ community," according to the lawsuit.
The complaint was filed Monday by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Brenda Lawson, 72, and Trudy Rickerd, 57, who both worked at a Kroger store in Conway, Arkansas, for several years before being fired last spring The two women were allegedly disciplined and eventually terminated after they refused to wear new aprons issued last April that featured an embroidered rainbow heart on the top left portion of the bib.
The rainbow flag has long been used as a symbol of LGBTQ pride, displayed especially during Pride Month in June. Kroger, however, declined to confirm whether the symbol was intended for pride purposes, telling NBC News in an email that the company cannot comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, alleges Kroger violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 when it "refused to accommodate the religious beliefs of Lawson and Rickerd, and disciplined and terminated them because of their religious beliefs and in retaliation for requesting a religious accommodation."
Prior to their refusal to wear the new aprons, the lawsuit claims both women requested — but were denied — a religious accommodation to the dress code in the form of covering up the rainbow symbols with their name tags.
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 both, it continued, each “believed wearing the logo showed her advocacy of the [LGBTQ] community, which she could not do.”
The complaint — which claims Kroger did not fire other employees who simply refused to wear the apron without citing religious beliefs — calls for the company to reform its practices and provide compensation to the two employees for, among other things, “emotional pain and suffering, humiliation, inconvenience, and loss of enjoyment of life.”