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Don’t tolerate intolerant religious talk

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management

Some employees believe their religion requires them to profess their faith—even at work and even if doing so violates their employer’s harassment policies. That’s not true.

Recent case:  Tanisha Matthews worked for a Walmart store in Joliet as a stock clerk. During a break in an overnight shift, Matthews and several other employees became involved in a heated discussion on religion and homosexuality. Matthews is an Apostolic Christian who believes that homosexuality is immoral.

During the break-time argument, Matthews told a gay co-worker that “God does not accept gays.” She said they should not “be on earth,” and that they will “go to hell” because they are not “right in the head.” Five other employees confirmed that Matthews made the statements.

Matthews was fired for violating Walmart’s anti-harassment policy, which prohibits harassment based on sexual orientation, among other reasons.

She sued, alleging that her statements were an expression of her religious beliefs and therefore the anti-harassment policy didn’t apply to her.

The court rejected that notion, pointing out that it would be impossible for Walmart to abide by various anti-discrimination laws if employees with intolerant religious beliefs had an open-ended forum to express those beliefs. It tossed out her case. (Matthews v. Wal-Mart, No. 10-2242, 7th Cir., 2011)

Final note: This wasn’t a case where an employer punished someone because of her religious beliefs. That would have been illegal religious discrimination. Rather, this was a case where the employee insisted on expressing her religious belief contrary to company policy.

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