Kroger will pay $180,000 in settling religious discrimination claims filed on behalf of two workers who objected to wearing a symbol they saw as supporting the LGBTQ+ community, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The federal agency had filed a lawsuit on behalf of the former employees of a Kroger store in Conway, Arkansas, in 2020. Both were disciplined and ultimately fired for refusing to wear aprons adorned with a multicolored heart, which they saw as akin to a rainbow pride flag, the EEOC said last week in a news release. Kroger denies the allegations of religious discrimination, it added.
Part of a marketing campaign introduced by the supermarket chain in 2019, the symbol is notably "not a rainbow and only encompasses four colors," the supermarket chain said in court filings.
As part of the settlement, Kroger agreed to create a religious accommodation policy and enhance its religious discrimination training to store managers, the EEOC said.
The EEOC said in its suit that Kroger made no attempt to accommodate the workers' requests for religious exemptions, with one woman offering to wear the apron with the emblem covered and the other offering to wear a different apron, the agency said.
"It is illegal to terminate employees for requesting an accommodation for their religious beliefs," Delner-Franklin Thomas, district director of the EEOC's Memphis District Office, which has jurisdiction over Arkansas, Tennessee and portions of Mississippi, said at the time. "The EEOC protects the rights of the LGBTQ community, but it also protects the rights of religious people."
Kroger did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The company, which operates stores in 35 states, recently said it would merge with Albertsons and together employ more than 710,000 at 4,996 stores and other facilities.
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