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LABOR & EMPLOYMENT LAW 3/21/08

Wiccan necklace may have been reason for discharge

A Starbucks employee who wore a Wiccan necklace to work raised material fact questions as to whether she was fired because of her religion, concluded a federal district court in Oregon, denying summary judgment to her employer. She was fired purportedly for a third corrective action notice when she failed to report for a scheduled shift. But the employee said she told her manager she would not be there due to an injury she sustained at work. (Hedum v Starbucks Corp, DOr, 90 EPD 43,107)

The employee made out a prima facie case of religious bias under Title VII and Oregon law. Her performance reviews rated her satisfactory or above in all aspects of her job other than punctuality. While punctuality was part of her job description, her employer pointed to no rule or comparative evidence related to corrective notices, and it was unclear if her manager knew she had attendance issues at a prior location. Her managers' repeated, pervasive and disparaging remarks about her necklace, prompting her to contact HR about permitted jewelry, and her coworkers' display of Christian religious jewelry with impunity, created an inference of bias.

Her employer asserted she was discharged for ongoing tardiness and failure to show up for a shift while on a final written warning. But the employee raised a genuine issue of material fact as to the truth of her employer's purportedly legitimate, nonbiased reason for its actions. At a prior location, she was placed only on an "action plan" when she received four discipline notices in three months. Yet, after receiving three notices in 12 months at her current location, where she was repeatedly subjected to remarks about her religion and religious jewelry, she was scheduled to work a shift she said she could not work and fired for not showing up, noted the court.

For more information on this and other topics, consult CCH Employment Practices Guide or CCH Labor Relations.

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