Starbucks Barista Fired After Refusing to Wear 'Pride' T-Shirt, According to Lawsuit

A New Jersey woman says Starbucks fired her after refusing to wear a "Pride" t-shirt due to her religious beliefs. In a lawsuit filed last week, Betsy Fresse, a Christian from Newark, claims that her position with the company was terminated last year despite being "assured" by managers that her faith wouldn't be an issue.

Fresse began working for Starbucks in December of 2015, according to NJ.com. In early 2018, she transferred to a store in Glen Ridge. According to Fresse, managers in both locations were aware of her religious beliefs. They had agreed to let her have off Sunday, Tuesday and Friday evenings to attend church and participate in other religious activities. Her managers at the Glen Ridge location also "assured her" in June 2019 that she didn’t have to wear the "Pride" t-shirt during her shift. Despite this, the lawsuit claims that she was called into her manager's office two months later and fired for "acting in violation of Starbucks' core values." The New York Post reports that 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."

Fresse is now seeking back pay, punitive damages, money for emotional pain and suffering, as well as payment of her attorneys' fees. She has also filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, which said in August it was unable to conclude one way or another if Starbucks engaged in religious discrimination. Fresse's lawsuit states that she "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." Those beliefs include the idea "that 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."

Responding to the lawsuit, a representative for Starbucks said that Fresse's claims were baseless, stating that "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." That statement, provided to the Post, added, "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."