HOBOKEN, N.J. — A former Starbucks employee in New Jersey has filed suit against the popular coffee chain as she claims that she was fired for “acting in violation of Starbucks’ core values” after she declined to wear a homosexual pride shirt and remarked that her co-workers instead “need Jesus.” The company denies the allegations, stating that employees are never required to wear any item other than a green apron.
According to reports, while attending a staff meeting in June 2019, Betsy Fresse noted a box of shirts in her manager’s office and later inquired privately if she would be required to wear one. She was advised that she didn’t have to.
Fresse states that Starbucks’ ethics and compliance helpline contacted her weeks later over the matter, during which time she outlined that she did not wish to wear the shirt due to her religious convictions. She was reportedly given a tee and expressed objection, stating that her co-workers, also known as partners, “need Jesus.”
Soon after, Fresse was advised that she was being let go as “her comportment was not in compliance with Starbucks’ core values.”
According to her complaint, Fresse’s Notice of Separation similary cited that she had violated the company’s “core values” and noted that she had remarked that her co-workers “need Jesus.”
“We enforce these values when we embrace inclusion and diversity, and welcome and learn from people with different backgrounds and perspectives,” the Notice outlined.
Fresse obtained legal representation, which filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in February and was given the green light to sue in August. That religious discrimination lawsuit, Fresse v. Starbucks Corp., was filed on Nov. 22.
“Mrs. Fresse holds the personal religious belief that all people need Jesus,” the suit states, according to the New York Post. “Mrs. Fresse believes that every Christian is called to love and treat everyone with respect and compassion, irrespective of their religious or other beliefs.”
Fresse is seeking an injunction, backpay, punitive damages and attorney’s fees.
Starbucks has reiterated that Fresse was not required to wear the shirt. It says that Fresse’s legal challenge is “without merit.”
The coffee giant, however, does have a page on its website touting its “history of LGBT inclusion,” which features photographs of various Starbucks pride shirts and reads in part, “For more than three decades, Starbucks has been committed to building a culture where all are welcome, standing as an ally to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.”
It notes that it donated a combined $100K this year to the Human Rights Campaign and the National Center for Transgender Equality. The company also has a Family Expansion Reimbursement Program, which “covers up to $10,000 for adoption, surrogacy or intrauterine insemination” for same-sex households seeking to raise children.
Starbucks was additionally one of more than 200 corporations that jointly filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court calling for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to be read into existing federal civil rights law.