A former Starbucks barista in New Jersey alleged in a lawsuit filed on Nov. 19 that she was fired from the coffee shop chain because she refused to wear a shirt in support of LGBT causes due to her Christian beliefs.
According to the New York Post, Betsy Fresse, a Newark resident, said in the lawsuit that she made her employer aware of her faith when she began working at a Hoboken Starbucks. She was “assured” by managers it wouldn’t be an issue after she transferred to a Glen Ridge location in early 2019. She had Sunday, Tuesday and Friday evenings off so she could attend church services and other functions.
The filing alleged Fresse saw a box of the Starbucks’ Pride shirts on a desk in June of 2019 and asked if she’d be required to wear one. She says she was told she wouldn’t have to.
However, according to NBC News, she was contacted by Starbucks’ ethics and compliance helpline about her decision not to wear the shirt. The suit said she told them that she couldn’t wear it “because her religious beliefs prevented her from doing so.”
Fresse subsequently received a termination notice from Starbucks on Aug. 22, 2019, which said “her comportment was not in compliance with Starbucks’ core values.”
The separation notice maintained that employees were not required to wear the shirt, but claimed Fresse said other employees “need Jesus” when she was handed a shirt to wear.
“Mrs. Fresse hold the personal religious belief that all people need Jesus,” Fresse’s court filing said. “Mrs. Fresse believes that every Christian is called to love and treat everyone with respect and compassion, irrespective of their religious or other beliefs.”
“We enforce these values when we embrace inclusion and diversity, and welcome and learn from people with different backgrounds and perspectives,” the separation notice read.
According to NJ.com, the filings state that Fresse “holds no enmity toward individuals who ascribe to the LGBTQ lifestyle and/or make up the LGBTQ community, (she) believes that being made to wear a Pride T-shirt as a condition of employment would be tantamount to forced speech and inaccurately show her advocacy of a lifestyle in direct contradiction to her religious beliefs.”
The filing said Fresse believes Christians need “to express in word and deeds Christ’s love for everyone.”
Fresse is suing for back pay, punitive damages, emotional pain and suffering and attorneys fees. She also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which said it couldn’t find conclusive proof of discrimination.
“We are very aware of the claims by Mrs. Fresse, which are without merit and we are fully prepared to present our case in court,” said a spokesperson for Starbucks. “Specific to our dress code, other than our green apron, no part of our dress code requires partners to wear any approved items that they have not personally selected.”
In a similar case, the EEOC filed a suit in September on behalf of two former workers for supermarket chain Kroger who say they were fired because they refused to wear an apron with a rainbow emblem on it.
While Kroger didn’t say the rainbow patch was an explicit sign of support for the LGBT community, the well-known symbol was added to the apron just before LGBT Pride Month in June of 2019. In that case, the federal government was confident enough the chain had violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to bring the case.
The lawsuit said the two women at the Conway, Arkansas, supermarket offered to wear uniforms without the rainbow emblem or to wear their name tag over it.
“[T]he company made no attempt to accommodate their requests. When the women still refused to wear the apron with the emblem visible,” the EEOC said, “Kroger retaliated against them by disciplining and ultimately discharging them.”
“Such alleged conduct violates the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
The truth in matters like these is always subjective and is best handled in court, under oath. However, it’s worth wondering how many employees simply stay silent.
After all, while one’s religious beliefs are protected under law — and there are plenty of reasons, as you no doubt know, to believe there’s a biblical prohibition against same-sex relationships — the easiest path is the path of least resistance. It doesn’t end with a termination notice or a demotion, it doesn’t block your way up the corporate food chain, and it doesn’t end with you in court.
While it doesn’t help that Starbucks is one of the most uniformly liberal American corporations, that’s the real issue that rankles here.
When silence has become exponentially easier than exercising your rights, something’s amiss. It’s not that we can definitively say Fresse was discriminated against. No Christian, based on their own experiences, doubts this could have happened to her — or them.