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EEOC Controversy Over Religious Discrimination Based on Multi-Colored Heart

Two Arkansas Kroger employees claim the company fired them for refusing to wear a Kroger apron with a multi-colored heart on it. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit on behalf of those two employees alleging religious discrimination. According to the lawsuit, the multi-colored heart aprons became available to employees in April 2019. The employees objected to wearing the hearts because they believe the symbol endorses LGBTQ values; they claim those values violate their religious beliefs. Both women assert they wrote to Kroger while still employed to discuss a way to accommodate their “sincere religious” beliefs. The women proposed either covering up the heart or wearing a different apron. According to the lawsuit, Kroger denied those requests, retaliated against the women, and ultimately fired them.

The EEOC’s decision to pursue this claim created some dissension within the agency. In emails obtained by Bloomberg Law, an EEOC attorney objected to the lawsuit, asserting the lawsuit advocated for intolerance. EEOC’s general counsel defended the decision, asserting that this suit did not encourage workplace discrimination. “An employee who wants to berate, offend, or refuse to work with other employees is quite different from an employee who wants to be left alone to do their job,” argued the general counsel.

Outside groups interviewed for the Bloomberg article reflect disparate reactions to the EEOC’s lawsuit. The National Law Center stated that the suit suggests that religious liberties take precedence over other workplace rights. In fact, the Kroger heart logo does not expressly indicate support for LGBTQ rights, and the company denies it intended to indicate support of the LGBTQ community with the logo. When releasing the heart logo, the company explained each of the four colors connection to a company value. Kroger does have a “Kroger PRIDE” logo to explicitly support the LGBTQ community. A non-profit organization advocating for religious freedom expressed its support of the lawsuit and its opposition to Kroger’s clear discrimination against the two women.