The Kroger supermarket chain has settled a lawsuit via a consent decree with two former employees in Arkansas who claimed they were fired for refusing to wear aprons with a rainbow heart which they felt violated their religious beliefs.
The two believed the heart was in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
On Thursday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced the Kroger Limited Partnership I agreed to pay $180,000 to former employees Trudy Rickerd, then 57, and Brenda Lawson, then 72, in return for dropping their suit. Both employees were subsequently disciplined and fired in 2019, although Kroger maintains they were not terminated in retaliation for their actions. Rickerd and Lawson were 57 and 72 respectively at the time they were fired from their positions at the Kroger supermarket in Conway, Ark.
The employees will receive about $70,000 each, according to NBC News.
"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 announcing the agreement. "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."
The Memphis District Office has jurisdiction over Arkansas, Tennessee, and portions of Mississippi.
Kroger maintains they did not discipline or fire the employees over their religious beliefs but did agree in the consent decree to "create a religious accommodation policy and provide enhanced religious discrimination training to store management."
"The women believed the emblem endorsed LGBTQ values and that wearing it would violate their religious beliefs," the EEOC said in a press release announcing the suit in 2020. The suit alleged the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964d which bans religious discrimination in employment.
Kroger introduced the apron with a rainbow heart embroidered on the bib in April 2019, and reportedly required all employees to wear the apron. Lawson, a deli worker employed by Kroger since 2011, had offered to cover the heart with a name tag. Rickerd, a cashier with Kroger since 2006, had given management a letter outlining her objections to the symbol. Lawson was terminated June 1, 2019, and Rickerd May 29, 2019.