Wal-Mart firing of employee not religious harassment, court rules
Sun-Times Media April 6, 2011 1:48PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
CHICAGO — Wal-Mart was within its rights to fire a Joliet store employee who told a lesbian co-worker that she would go to hell because God does not accept gays, and the dismissal was not religious discrimination, a federal appeals court has ruled.
Tanisha Matthews began working as an overnight stocker at the Joliet Wal-Mart in 1996, according to court documents. In September 2005, during a break in the shift, Matthews took part in a conversation about God and homosexuality.
The next day, an employee informed a manager that Matthews had made inappropriate comments about gays to a lesbian employee named Amy. Over the next three months, Wal-Mart interviewed and obtained statements from employees who were present.
In her statement, Amy reported 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.” Five other employees confirmed that Matthews had said gays are sinners who are going to hell.
Wal-Mart fired Matthews after concluding she had engaged in behavior that violated the company’s Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy. The policy, which the court said Matthews was aware of at the time of the incident, prohibits employees from engaging in conduct that could reasonably be interpreted as harassment based on an individual’s status, including sexual orientation, and says they can be fired for such conduct.
Matthews, an Apostolic Christian, sued Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for race and religious discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, claiming she was fired because of her religious beliefs and not for violating company policy.
She voluntarily dismissed the race discrimination claim, and the U.S. District Court in Chicago granted summary judgment to Wal-Mart on her religious-discrimination claim.
“Because Matthews has not provided evidence of religious discrimination, we affirm,” the U.S. Appeals Court for the Seventh Circuit said in its decision, announced March 31.
In her suit, Matthews claimed Wal-Mart engaged in religious discrimination by firing her for expressing religious beliefs. “But if Matthews is arguing that Wal-Mart must permit her to admonish gays at work to accommodate her religion, the claim fails,” the Appeals Court stated in its decision.
Wal-Mart “fired her because she violated company policy when she harassed a co-worker, not because of her beliefs,” the ruling states.
The decision stated that, “in any event, Wal-Mart’s anti-harassment policy establishes that her conduct qualified as harassment and that Wal-Mart may fire rather than merely suspend her.”