Thursday, April 7, 2011

Appeals Court Upholds Firing of Walmart Worker for Anti-gay Harrassment

A typical Wal-Mart discount department store i... A US Appeals Court ruled on March 30 that Walmart was justified in firing an employee for harassing a lesbian coworker. The employee had claimed the retail giant violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, accusing the company of firing her for her religious beliefs.

GayCityNews reports:
According to the unsigned ruling, Tanisha Matthews, who describes herself as an Apostolic Christian, worked as an overnight stocker at a Wal-Mart store in Joliet, Illinois. While on a break, she took part in a heated conversation with other employees about God and homosexuality.

Another employee who participated reported to management that Matthews was "screaming over her" that God does not accept gays, they should not "be on earth," and they will "go to hell" because they are not "right in the head." During a company investigation of the incident, five other employees confirmed that Matthews said gays are sinners who are going to hell.

Wal-Mart managers considered these remarks to be "serious harassment" in violation of the company's "Zero Tolerance" harassment policy, which bars any conduct that could be interpreted as harassment on the basis of categories that include sexual orientation. Serious harassment is considered "gross misconduct" that is grounds for dismissal.

Matthews sued, claiming religious discrimination in violation of the 1964 Act. She pointed out that her work record up until then had been satisfactory, so it was clear she was fired for her religiously-based statements about gay people.

The district court granted summary judgment to Wal-Mart, finding there was no direct evidence of discrimination and no indication other employees received more favorable treatment. Matthews appealed.

The appeals court ruling stated, "If Matthews is arguing that Wal-Mart must permit her to admonish gays at work to accommodate her religion, the claim fails." The court pointed out, "Wal-Mart fired her because she violated company policy when she harassed a co-worker, not because of her beliefs, and employers need not relieve workers from complying with neutral workplace rules as a religious accommodation if it would create an undue hardship. In this case, such an accommodation would place Wal-Mart on the 'razor's edge' of liability by exposing it to claims of permitting work-place harassment."
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