Religious Discrimination in Oregon

Earlier in the week, I came across a story about a Wiccan who is suing Starbucks for religious discrimination and wrongful termination. According to the original story, Alicia Hedum was asked to remove her “Wiccan cross.” When she refused, she was held back from being promoted or transferred. Her hours were cut, and she was eventually terminated.

I originally didn’t post about this matter due to the lack of information. The article was quite brief and details were scarce. And to be honest, I was a bit concerned about the fact that the article mentioned that Starbucks management had “scrutinized her ‘minor tardines.'” I will fully admit that I was concerned that this was a case of a rightfully terminated employee crying foul. As such, I decided to see if I could find more details about the situation before offering an opinion.

Today, my choice has paid off both for myself and Ms. Hedum. OregonLive has offered an update to this story, this time including details that has done much to alleviate my doubts about Ms. Hedum’s claims. (And on that count, I offer Ms. Hedum my sincerest apologies for ever doubting her.) In this update, the writer reveals that the lawsuit also covers the matter of an improperly handled workers compensation case:

She alleged that after she hurt her wrist at work in August 2005, the store failed to provide a workers’ compensation claim form. She alleged she was dismissed after she refused to come into work because a store manager would not assign her to light duty work as recommended by her doctor.

Failure to allow an employee to properly document an injury received at work is a serious matter. As is terminating an employee for absences caused due to such an injury. The complaint that Hedum’s lawyers filed with the court alleges that Hedum asked for the paperwork necessary to report her injury on two separate occasions, once to her shift supervisor and once to the store manager. On both occasions, she was informed that either the necessary forms could not be found or that the store was out of said forms.

Now, my question is this: What kind of employer “runs out of” workers compensation forms? I’m certainly no expert on labor laws, certainly not those in Oregon. However, it seems to me that providing an injured employee with such forms in a timely fashion would be a legal requirement. I would also imagine that not having said forms on hand (or at least being able to receive new forms via fax or other method within the hour) must either be a violation or border on it.

Also, the legal document sheds more light on Hedum’s injury-related absences. It appears that she contacted the store manager and explained the need for light duty, even describing her doctor’s restrictions. When the manager informed her that no position was available that would meet those requirements, Hedum did the only thing she could: She informed the manager immediately that she would be unable to return to work until her doctor changed her restrictions. The manager’s choice to hold those absences against Hedum and terminate her employment because of them is against the labor laws of the two states I have lived in (Pennsylvania and New York). I cannot imagine the labor laws in Oregon view the matter any differently.

It will be curious to see how Starbucks chooses to handle this matter. Based on the description that the legal complain gives of Starbucks, it sounds like the corporate office is on the hook for the lawsuit. If that’s the case, I suspect that they will probably look for a way to settle out of court. It not only would be the right thing to do, but it would probably save Starbucks from an even bigger blackeye in terms of publicity.

Of course, to me, the bigger question is this: Will store manager Anna Hickey have a job when the dust settles? And if she remains, how will corporate impress upon her the importance that she never pulls a stunt like this again?

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