Court nixes Walmart discrimination suit

A federal appeals court in Illinois ruled that a worker was not a victim of religious discrimination when she was fired for harassing a gay coworker.

According to court documents, Tanisha Matthews worked as an overnight stocker at a Walmart store in Joliet, Ill. In September 2005 a co-worker identified as Amy filed a complaint with the store alleging that Matthews had harassed her for her sexual orientation during a work break.

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 that gays are sinners and are going to hell.

Walmart fired Matthews after concluding she’d violated the company’s discrimination and harassment prevention policy. Matthews sued, alleging she was discriminated against for both her race and Apostolic Christian religion, although she later dropped the racial claim.

On March 31, an appeals court upheld a lower court ruling against Matthews’ claim, noting that she was aware at the time of the incident of the company policy that prohibits employees from engaging in conduct that could reasonably be interpreted as harassment.

The appeals court found that Matthews’ right to exercise her religion did not permit her to harass gays at work.

The court wrote: “Wal-Mart fired her because she violated company policy when she harassed a coworker, 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.”

— L.W.

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