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.