Warsaw, Poland – An IKEA human resources manager in Poland has been charged by Polish prosecutors for religious discrimination after firing an employee who had made homophobic and anti-LGBT comments.
The high-profile case dates back to last year, when IKEA’s Krakow retail store fired one of its employees who refused to take part in a corporate event promoting LGBT rights and tolerance and posted homophobic comments on the company’s intranet to justify his decision.
The Polish man had quoted passages from the Bible suggesting that gay people deserved to be killed and likening homosexuality to an “abomination”.
The fired employee argued that the policy of IKEA Poland and decision to organize days supporting LGBT tolerance went against his own personal and religious beliefs, and that his comments were not meant as an attack against any specific individual.
After his sacking, Poland’s Justice Minister Zbiegniew Ziobro slammed the Swedish retailer, whose actions he described as “absolutely scandalous”, and claimed IKEA was discriminating against people who did not share their own views. In a statement, Polish Catholic bishops also expressed their support with the fired employee of the Krakow store, congratulating him for his “courage” in expressing his views and accusing IKEA of “LGBT indoctrination”.
IKEA, for its part, pointed out that while freedom of expression and freedom of conscience stood at the core of the company’s values, the company could not condone attitudes or comments that specifically targeted and discriminated against a specific group of people. “The employee actually used quotes from the Old Testament about death and blood in the context of what fate should meet homosexuals”, the company said in a statement at the time of the sacking.
The human resources manager, accused by the Warsaw prosecutor office of violating the employee’s religious rights and freedom, could face a fine or even a prison sentence if found guilty. IKEA is facing another, separate lawsuit for wrongful dismissal.
In a statement e-mailed to the Associated Press, IKEA Poland said that “as an employer, we will provide all the help and support to our charged co-worker”, but refused to comment further on the case.
LGBT rights have long been at the forefront of public debate in Poland, which was recently ranked as the most homophobic country in Europe, according to the latest Rainbow Map Index.
Critics and rights groups have been warning of the steady rise of homophobia in Poland, accusing the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party of politicizing the issue and fueling hateful rhetoric towards LGBT people and gay rights, regularly labelled as a “foreign liberal import” and “ideology” that goes against traditional Polish values and beliefs.