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Appeals Court Sides with Wal-Mart in Sacking of Anti-Gay Religious Worker

Appeals Court Sides with Wal-Mart in Sacking of Anti-Gay Religious Worker

A former Wal-Mart employee who took the retail giant to court claiming religious discrimination after she was fired for violating Wal-Mart’s non-discrimination policy over an incident where she told a lesbian co-worker she was going to hell and wasn’t “right in the head,” has lost her appeal after a 9th Circuit Court judge ruled that religious freedom of speech does not negate Wal-Mart’s non-harassment policy.

From EDGE Chicago:

“In September 2005, during a break in the overnight shift, Matthews took part in a conversation about God and homosexuality,” the court’s ruling read. “The next day an employee informed a manager that Matthews had made inappropriate comments about gays to a gay employee named Amy.

“Over the next three months, Wal-Mart investigated the incident by interviewing and obtaining statements from employees who were present during the conversation,” the ruling continued. “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.”

Mathews decided to involve the courts, alleging that she was fired because, in effect, she was Christian and that Wal-Mart broke the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination on the grounds of a person’s faith.

The lower court issued a summary judgment in favor of Wal-Mart, citing  there was no evidence to suggest Wal-Mart had penalized Matthews for being a Christian but had instead terminated her employment for violating a long-standing anti-harassment policy that Matthews had known of when she began working for Wal-Mart.

The policy prohibits employees from engaging in conduct that could reasonably be interpreted as harassment based on an individual’s status — this includes sexual orientation. It says that employees who violate the policy should receive coaching and discipline that could include termination.

The appeals court agreed with the lower court’s ruling, saying: “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.”

As to Matthew’s charge that she was the only one penalized when a group of people had taken part in the discussion, the court said that evidence showed Matthews alone had made the discussion about someone’s “individual status.”

Wal-Mart faces a much larger legal fight due to a class action lawsuit, Wal-Mart v. Dukes, in which current and former female employees allege Wal-Mart has systematically discriminated against women in pay, promotions and job assignments in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in the case. You can read more on that here.

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Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to Monochrome.

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73 comments

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4:04PM PDT on May 14, 2011

Yay WalMart! (wow never thought I'd say that)

9:23AM PDT on Apr 10, 2011

It's good to know the courts are still able to differ between freedom of religion/free speech and harassment on religous grounds.
I wonder when it's gonna hit those thick headed, brainless, rightwing, xtian nuts that they can no longer hide their hate behind a veil of religious freedom? At least not in the workplace. Let's hope the WBC also get to STFU soon!

7:30AM PDT on Apr 10, 2011

"Mathews decided to involve the courts, alleging that she was fired because, in effect, she was Christian"

Well, if she was truly Christian she would never have said the ugly judgmental things she said in the first place. Jesus never said a word against gay people - never. You'd have thought if he thought it was so important he might have mentioned it. He did condemn the rich & the religious hypocrites though. We wonder if Matthews would be as hostile in condemning these people, who she obviously is one of (religious hypocrites). All these faux Christians who base their hateful beliefs on the Old Testament & the rantings of the neurotic Paul & sex-obsessed Augustine instead of the teachings of Jesus, are so tiresome. Why doesn't anyone ever challenge their lies? Jesus said there were only 2 commandments: Love God & Love your Neighbor. Period. All else hangs on these - don't judge others (it's not your job), love everyone, feed the hungry, visit those in prison, turn the other cheek, forgive 70 times 7, don't cast stones at others as none of are any better etc. Mohammed may have called for the murder of gay people, but Jesus said his followers would be known for their love. Time to decide who you really follow Ms Matthews (& all the other right wing fundamentalistic so-called Christians) because it sure ain't Jesus the Prince of Peace.

Good on you, WalMart! Who'd of thought it?

8:48PM PDT on Apr 9, 2011

Joshua I makes a good point, though. Was it just the one instance or "habitual". On the other hand causing a "hostile environment" is harassment.

I think Joshua's first statement would be a great thing UNIONIZE. Because so far Wal-Mart has embodied corporate greed and masqueraded it as benevolent to the low income American since they keep prices low. since the top dogs are making a TON of money, we should ask ourselves this: If they make as much or more profit to the CEOs, and I pay a lower and lower price, WHO is getting screwed? It's the workers.

11:09AM PDT on Apr 9, 2011

Wal-Mart...who knew.....

3:19PM PDT on Apr 8, 2011

Sorry, I should have said the Circuit Court got it right, but still hope SOCUS shoots down Walmart on
getting rid of Walmart's stance on ridding themselves of the class action against them.

3:12PM PDT on Apr 8, 2011

SOCUS finally did something right. Let's see if they gut "class actions" before we get happy with them. If they ban class actions, the workers who are abused will be unable to support individual legal actions against their abusers.

12:37PM PDT on Apr 8, 2011

I never thought I'd agree with Walmart. I guess the world (as we know it) will change soon. oh dear. lol.

6:23AM PDT on Apr 8, 2011

Wow! I'm impressed with this judge!

3:33AM PDT on Apr 8, 2011

Firstly, Wow. I actually agree with Walmart on something. Never thought I'd live to see the day!

Secondly, @ monica r - thank you so much for a lovely, reasonable comment! As an atheist, I always end up having to ask the question "but if god made everything, surely he made me and allowed me to have the lack of belief I have?" And you have summed that up nicely. As a christian surely it is incumbent upon Matthews to accept people as they are (as Jesus would have done) and to leave the judging to the higher power she believes in. That still bugs me a bit because it enables the attitude that says "*I* won't judge you, but you're still going to hell"

However, I've got to agree, to some extent, with Joshua I - depending on the level of offence Matthews caused, this *might* have been a case for disciplinary action rather than outright dismissal, and if Walmart workers had more rights overall, incidences like this would probably be handled in a more reasonable fashion. Or at least there would be a proper framework for handling them.

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