Friday, April 8, 2011

Damning Gay Co-Workers to Hell - COTW #35

An Apostolic Christian and a homosexual walk into a Wal-Mart... it's not the setup to a joke, it's the employment law Case of the Week. The two were co-workers on the overnight shift. One night, while on break, they participated in a conversation on God and homosexuality. What could go wrong?

Well, apparently the Christian employee:
[W]as "screaming over [the gay employee]" 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."
This presented an interesting issue for management. On the one hand, the comments harassed a co-worker in violation of Wal-Mart policy. On the other hand, the comments reflected an employee's religious view of homosexuality, and religion is a protected class under Title VII.

Well, the Christian employee was fired and subsequently brought a Title VII religious discrimination lawsuit. Apparently, the Seventh Circuit didn't find the issue quite as interesting as I did. The three-judge panel dismissed it in a two-page opinion with about two sentences of analysis:
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. In this case, such an accommodation could place Wal–Mart on the "razor's edge" of liability by exposing it to claims of permitting workplace harassment.
Summary judgment for the employer.

Moral of the story? You can have your religious beliefs, but don't yell at your co-workers that they shouldn't be on earth and are going to hell.

Citation: Matthews v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2011 WL 1192945 (7th Cir. March 31, 2011).

Posted by Philip Miles, an attorney with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania in the firm's civil litigation and labor and employment law practice groups.