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Discrimination ruling may not change opinions about local Wal-Mart expansion

by Tiffany Lane
April 07, 2011

A federal appeals court recently ruled against a Wal-Mart worker who made remarks against a lesbian co-worker. Tanisha Matthews, an overnight stocker for a Wal-Mart in Joliet, was accused of telling the woman that she would go to hell because God does not accept gays. When Wal-Mart fired Matthews for violating its policy against discrimination and harassment, Matthews took the company to court. 

Wal-Mart, which has been the focus of lawsuits related to workers’ treatment, is looking to expand its presence in Chicago. Whether this ruling supporting its policy against on-the-job harassment will mitigate strong opposition to this expansion is open to question.
Drew Sexton, former president of the Pullman Civic Organization, would like to see a Wal-Mart store in Pullman. But he does not think the company’s action against Matthews and its anti-harassment stance will change the opinions of those opposing Wal-Mart stores in their neighborhoods.
“I think people who are against Wal-Mart have made up their minds,” he said.
Max Bever, community outreach director for Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), confirmed that Wal-Mart is considering opening a store in the Lakeview neighborhood. It is eying space on North Broadway near Diversey Boulevand formerly occupied by PetSmart, he said.

Tunney’s ward includes the Boys Town neighborhood, one of Chicago’s major concentrations of gay, lesbian and transgender residents. Bever declined to comment on whether neighborhood residents might be more open to a Wal-Mart store given the recent court ruling.

Wal-Mart has not turned in an official proposal for the store to Tunney’s office, said Bever. Mid America, the site’s property manager, is concerned that the company would need more than 25,000 square feet, which is the size it can legally occupy under current zoning regulations, Bever said.

Tunney has not taken sides on whether he would like the store to move in.
“As his job as alderman, he is supposed to listen to every proposal,” Bever said.  “He’s neither in favor or not.”
Bever said if a business follows city and zoning laws, it cannot be denied access to a vacant location.
“If that be Wal-Mart or another tenant,” he said, “the city has no right to kick them out.”
Traditionally, however, Chicago aldermen have broad latitude over development in their wards.
According to Wal-Mart’s corporate website, it is proposing two Chicago stores that would create 10,000 jobs by 2015. The company newest local store, a Wal-Mart Express in West Chatham at 83rd Street and Stewart Avenue, is scheduled to open by summer.