Outrage Over Alleged Gay Slur by Safeway Employee

By Tom Sherwood
|  Friday, Jun 17, 2011  |  Updated 6:35 AM EDT
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Safeway grocery officials tonight are apologizing for a store clerk who uttered anti-gay obscenities at two male customers last weekend. The clerk has now been fired.

Tom Sherwood

Safeway grocery officials tonight are apologizing for a store clerk who uttered anti-gay obscenities at two male customers last weekend. The clerk has now been fired.

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The sparkling new 50,000-square-feet Safeway in Southwest was a welcome addition to the reviving area when it opened in April last year.

But over the weekend, a derogatory remark allegedly made -- twice -- by a store clerk threatened Safeway with a possible boycott, pickets and a serious loss of business.

A same-sex couple, Jason Morgan and Brendan Harrington, were called an ugly slur for gay men when they tried to check out last Saturday, the same day as the Capital Pride Parade, MetroWeekly first reported.

When Harrington asked the clerk what she had said, she repeated it.

"We just couldn't believe it," Morgan told MetroWeekly. "She didn't seem apologetic or anything. We asked her for the store manager and she just ignored us. So we ended up leaving our groceries where they were and we walked [away]."

That clerk has now been fired, NBC Washington's Tom Sherwood has learned.

Some customers outside the store earlier Thursday -- before word came that the clerk had been fired -- were threatening to start a boycott. Ward 6 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Andrew Litsky was also on the scene, demanding that Safeway take immediate action and retrain employees in the city's human rights law.

"This could have been me... or anyone else," Litsky said. He immediately called on Safeway to respond aggressively or face an angry community response.

Morgan and Harrington live in Southwest and had regularly shopped at that Safeway. They've now filed a complaint with the city's Office on Human Rights. The office confirmed to NBC Washington that the complaint has been received.

And according to MetroWeekly, the couple is now shopping elsewhere.

Officials from Safeway, which community leaders say has been a good corporate citizen with the new store location, were reacting strongly late Thursday to the employee's remark.

"We have reached out to the customers involved to extend our sincere apology," wrote Safeway Eastern Division President Steven Neibergall. "We were shocked and appalled" by the employee's behavior, he wrote. "The incident is personally offensive to me."

The store said it was taking corrective action to make certain every employee understands the store's anti-discrimination policy.

The store also says it's looking into why several employees were seemingly unhelpful when the two men tried to find the store manager. "The complaint should have been dealt with immediately and we apologize that this was not the case."

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