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Wal-Mart Cleared for Firing Anti-Gay Worker

CHICAGO (CN) - A former Wal-Mart employee cannot sue the company for religious discrimination after she was fired for telling a lesbian co-worker that she would go to hell because God does not accept gays, the 7th Circuit ruled.

Tanisha Matthews, an overnight stocker at Wal-Mart for 9 years, became involved in an impassioned discussion about God and homosexuality with a lesbian co-worker named Amy during a break in September 2005.

When Wal-Mart later investigated the incident, Amy reported, and co-workers confirmed, that Matthews was "screaming over her" that God does not accept gays, that gays should not "be on earth," and that they will "go to hell" because they are not "right in the head."

Matthews was fired for violating Wal-Mart's Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy. The policy prohibits employees from harassment based on an individual's status, including sexual orientation.

Matthews sued Wal-Mart, claiming race and religious discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She later voluntarily dismissed the race claim.

Matthews argued that Wal-Mart fired her for stating her belief that gays will go to hell, which she maintains is central to her Apostolic-Christian faith. If perceived harassment had really spurred Wal-Mart's action, Matthews said the company would not have let her continue working with Amy for the next three months during the company's investigation.

A Chicago federal judge granted summary judgment to Wal-Mart, finding no evidence that similarly situated employees had received different treatment. The 7th Circuit affirmed in an unpublished opinion last Thursday.

"Wal-Mart fired [Matthews] because she violated the 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," the unsigned opinion states.

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