In July 2010, Felicia Allen was hired as a part-time cashier at a Hobby Lobby in Flowood, Mississippi. Soon after she began working, she discovered she was four months’ pregnant with her third child and, because she had only been employed a short time, she did not qualify for leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act—something Hobby Lobby offers for maternity leave.
Felicia Allen went to her supervisor.
“I asked her would I lose my job due to me being four months and only having five months before I have my child. She told me ‘no.’ I felt like everything was OK. I had talked to my boss, and she let me know that everything would be OK. I would still have my job.”
But five months later, when the time came to take her leave of absence to have her child, that same supervisor told her she would be terminated for taking unpaid time off to have a baby, but she could reapply afterwards if she wanted her job back; side note: she tried to come back to work three weeks after her child was born but she was denied..
“I was like, I can’t get fired. She can’t terminate me because I have to go have my child. I started asking everybody on the job, ‘Can they do this?’ And even the assistant manager who had just got hired [said,] ‘No, that’s not right.’”
And it got worse. The so-called Christian craft store then tried to prevent Felicia Allen from accessing unemployment benefits and she was not allowed to sue the company for those benefits. See, Hobby Lobby, which likes to crow about operating its business based on “Christian” values—like firing a pregnant woman then refusing to rehire her—requires its employees to sign a binding arbitration agreement saying they cannot sue the company to resolve employment disagreements, but instead go through arbitration. Companies like Hobby Lobby claim arbitration is better for both parties because it tends to take less time and money, and usually employers are required to cover employees’ legal fees.
But Hobby Lobby has a different arbitration policy from most corporations in that it allows for “Christian-influenced” arbitration. The mutual arbitration agreement Felicia Allen signed gives employees the option of an arbitrator through the nonprofit American Arbitration Association [AAA] or the Institute for Christian Conciliation [ICC], run by a nonprofit called Peacemaker Ministries which views arbitration as “a process for reconciling people and resolving disputes out of court in a biblical manner”:
“Generally, Christians are not free to sue other Christians, at least not until they have exhausted the process that Jesus sets forth in Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. God instructs Christians to resolve their disputes within the church itself, with the assistance of other Christians if necessary.”
Christians can’t sue Christians, but Christians can fire a pregnant woman and then tell her she cannot be rehired.
At the end of the arbitration — during which Allen says Hobby Lobby’s corporate office gave a false version of events, claiming she could have taken off personal leave but chose not to — she won her claim for unemployment benefits, but felt she had been wrongly discriminated based on the fact that she was pregnant. And so, in February 2012 she tried to sue, but her lawsuit was dropped because of that arbitration agreement she was forced to sign.
These days Felicia Allen works at Xerox while pursuing an associate’s degree in accounting and says she is through with Hobby Lobby.
“How can you be Christian and lie about something to hinder your employee or don’t want them to come back after they’ve had their baby? Or you’re taking up for your manager knowing that they had done the wrong thing. I feel like that’s not being Christian at all. That’s why I don’t even shop there anymore. I used to shop at that store all the time.”
Naturally, Hobby Lobby has no response because, well, liars and hypocrites.