Nov 19 (Reuters) - A former Starbucks Corp barista in New Jersey sued the coffee chain on Thursday, claiming she was fired illegally because she did not want to wear a “PRIDE” T-shirt, which she said conflicted with her religious beliefs.
Betsy Fresse said her August 2019 dismissal from a Glen Ridge, New Jersey store, near her Newark home, for allegedly violating Starbucks’ “core values” amounted to illegal religious discrimination under federal civil rights law.
The Seattle-based chain’s website says Starbucks values “creating a culture of warmth and belonging,” and is committed to respecting inclusion and diversity.
According to the complaint, Starbucks violated that commitment by trying to “exclude and silence Mrs. Fresse whose religious beliefs it deemed undesirable.”
Fresse is seeking unspecified damages.
A Starbucks spokesman said Freese’s claims had no merit.
“Starbucks aims to create a warm and welcoming environment for partners (employees) and customers,” the spokesman said. “Other than our green apron, no part of our dress code requires partners to wear any approved items that they have not personally selected.”
Fresse’s lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The complaint said Fresse believes “marriage is defined in the Bible as between one man and one woman only, and that any sexual activity which takes place outside of this context is contrary to her understanding of Biblical teaching.”
Fresse said her manager told her in June 2019 she would not have to wear a PRIDE T-shirt, after she saw a box of them in his office.
She said Starbucks’ ethics and compliance helpline later contacted her, and she responded that she opposed wearing the T-shirt because of her religious beliefs.
The termination notice cited Fresse having allegedly “stated she did not want to wear a PRIDE T-shirt and that partners ‘need Jesus.’”
Fresse said she did not discriminate against customers in her 3-1/2 years working at Starbucks.
The case is Fresse v Starbucks Corp, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey, No. 20-16567. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)