A New Jersey woman has filed suit against Starbucks, claiming she was wrongfully terminated after refusing to wear an official company Pride T-shirt that she says violated her religious beliefs.
According to NBC News, Betsy Fresse said she worked as a barista at a Starbucks in New Jersey since 2018, and claims in her in court filings that her managers were well aware of her deep religious beliefs, saying she regularly requested Sundays and certain evenings off to attend church services and gatherings.
In June of 2019, Fresse claims she and other staffers attended a meeting in the store manager’s office where she saw a box of Starbucks Pride T-shirts on the floor by his desk. After the meeting, Fresse asked the manager if she would be required to wear the shirt during her shifts and claims her manager assured her she would not.
But according to her suit, which was filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, Fresse was contacted by Starbucks’ ethics and compliance helpline several weeks later regarding her request to be exempt from wearing the Pride shirt. She said she explained to the representative that she did not want to wear the Pride shirt “because her religious beliefs prevented her from doing so.”
On Aug. 22, 2019, Fresse claims she was notified she was being terminated because “her comportment was not in compliance with Starbucks’ core values.”
Fresse’s notice of separation from the company detailed that when she was given a Pride shirt — which Starbucks maintains employees were not required to wear — Fresse said she didn’t want to wear it and that her co-workers “need Jesus.”
In her suit, Fresse wrote that “all people need Jesus” and that Christians are called “to express in word and deeds Christ’s love for everyone.” She maintains that she served all her customers with respect and “holds no enmity toward individuals who ascribe to the LGBTQ lifestyle.” Fresse explains that she did make some co-workers aware of her religious beliefs regarding sexuality, but only “upon specific inquiry.”
Fresse filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February and was given the approval necessary to file suit in August. She’s seeking back pay with interest, plus compensation for emotional pain and suffering, and punitive damages.
A spokesperson for Starbucks said her claims are “without merit” and that the company is prepared to present its case in court. “Starbucks does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation,” the spokesperson said via email.