A New Jersey Christian woman filed a wrongful termination lawsuit on November 19, 2020 against her former employer Starbucks, alleging she was fired for refusing to wear the company’s Pride shirt that honors the LGBT community. The woman cited her religious beliefs as the reason she refused to wear the shirt.
Betsy Fresse has worked as barista at the popular coffee chain since December 2015. In her lawsuit she claimed managers were aware of her religious beliefs as she regularly requested Sundays and other evenings off for church attendance purposes.
According to New York Post the suit that was filed stated that Fresse was “assured by managers that her faith wouldn’t be an issue after transferring to a store in Glen Ridge early last year.” Later, in June 2019, after spotting a box during a meeting in a manger’s office that contained Starbucks‘ Pride shirts, she asked if she would be required to wear one. Fresse said having to wear the shirt would be “tantamount to forced speech” because her definition of marriage is defined by the Bible which teaches marriage is between one man and one woman only. Her manager told her she wouldn’t have to wear the company’s shirt.
The lawsuit states that Fresse believes that “every Christian is called to love and treat everyone with respect and compassion, irrespective of their religious or other beliefs.” and that her religious belief is “that all people need Jesus.”
On August 22, 2019 a district manager told her that she had been terminated and was told she was being fired for violating Starbucks‘ “core values.” This was after Fresse received a call from the company’s “ethic and compliance” helpline due to her request to be excluded from having to wear the LGBT shirt.
The termination notice read, “We enforce these values when we embrace inclusion and diversity, and welcome and learn from people with different backgrounds and perspectives.” It also alleges that she told her colleagues they “need Jesus” when the Pride shirt was given to her.
Fresse is seeking backpay, punitive damages, and attorney fees, as well as a permanent injunction that prevents Starbucks from “failing to accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs” of its employees.
A Starbucks representative told NBC News that Fresse’s claims are “without merit” and they are prepared to present that in court. The representative said, “Starbucks does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation,” stating that other than the Starbucks’ trademark green apron, ” other than Starbucks’ trademark green apron, “no part of our dress code requires partners to wear any approved items that they have not personally selected.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 says that it is unlawful for a place of employment to discriminate on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”