A Muslim former employee of Chipotle, Areej Saifan, has filed a federal lawsuit against the fast-casual Mexican food chain, alleging religious harassment and retaliation.
The suit was filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Saifan’s behalf. Saifan, who wore a hijab due to her religious beliefs, reported facing continuous harassment from her supervisor who pressured her to remove it.
According to CNN, The assistant manager persistently asked Saifan, approximately ten to fifteen times in a month, to take off her hijab. In one instance, the manager physically grabbed and yanked the hijab, causing part of it to come off, and exposing Saifan’s hair.
Despite Saifan reporting the harassment to a shift supervisor, the supervisor only warned the assistant manager once and did not escalate the matter to higher management. Due to the lack of action to address the harassment, Saifan decided to resign and gave her two weeks’ notice on August 10, 2021. Unusually, Chipotle did not schedule her for any new shifts during the notice period, deviating from their standard practice.
In response to the allegations, Chipotle’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Laurie Schalow, stated that they have a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination and that the implicated employee has been terminated. Schalow encouraged employees to report concerns promptly, providing an anonymous 800 number for such purposes.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is seeking a jury trial in Kansas City and is requesting various remedies, including appropriate back pay with prejudgment interest, among other forms of relief.
Andrea G. Baran, the regional attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s St. Louis District office, emphasized that individuals have the right to work free from harassment based on their religious beliefs and practices.
She particularly emphasized that harassment targeting women and girls who express their religious beliefs through modest clothing or head coverings is never acceptable.
According to AP, “The lawsuit claims that Chipotle violated federal civil rights law protecting employees and job applicants from discrimination based on religion, race, ethnicity, sex, and national origin. In its suit, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said it wants Chipotle to institute policies that provide equal employment opportunities for employees of all religions and pay damages to the employee.”
This is because Muslim women who wear the hijab do so because they believe it to be part of their religion’s standards of modesty and American law prohibits discrimination based on religion.