A federal complaint claims that a Chipotle restaurant assistant manager in Kansas removed an employee’s headscarf in an act of religious harassment that a federal officer called “quite egregious.”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit on Wednesday, alleging that manager Kevin Silva Garcia engaged in religiously motivated harassment of Muslim employee Areej Saifan in 2021 by repeatedly demanding to touch her hair.
Ms. Saifan, who was 19 at the time, reportedly said in the lawsuit that she felt naked without her headscarf on.
But the manager persisted, and finally “reached out, grabbed her hijab,” the head covering worn by certain Muslim women for cultural or religious reasons, and “yanked,” as the complaint put it. According to the court documents, her hair was visible and the hijab was only stopped from falling by its pinning.
The acts of Mr. Garcia at the Lenexa, Kansas restaurant “created a hostile working environment based on religion,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, alleges illegal harassment, retaliation, and constructive dismissal, the latter of which occurs when an employer creates an uncomfortable work environment that compels an employee to quit.
Ms. Saifan’s case was brought to the E.E.O.C.’s notice because of “the nature of these allegations,” as Joshua M. Pierson, supervising trial attorney, put it. The actions “were extremely egregious.”
Chipotle’s head of corporate and food safety, Laurie Schalow, issued a statement saying the firm had a “zero tolerance policy” for discrimination of any type and had “terminated the employee in question.”
Ms. Saifan felt threatened by Mr. Garcia and told shift manager Kim Benavente-Fernandez about it. The complaint claims that Ms. Benavente-Fernandez warned Mr. Garcia not to touch Ms. Saifan’s hair on at least one occasion but did nothing more.
It was not clear when, but the complaint claimed that Ms Saifan had also informed a field manager and a shop manager about what had occurred.
Ms. Saifan reportedly gave her two weeks’ notice the day after the hijab incident “as a result of Garcia’s threats and management’s repeated failures to address the harassment.”
According to the lawsuit, this was an exception to Chipotle’s normal practise of scheduling employees for shifts during the first two weeks of employment.
The store manager reportedly asked Ms. Saifan if she would be interested in a move to another store so that she could maintain her employment.
Ten days following Ms. Saifan’s departure, Mr. Garcia was let go from Chipotle. In spite of his behaviour against Ms. Saifan, Chipotle did not fire him, the lawsuit states.
Instead, court documents claim that he was terminated because his intimate relationship with Ms. Benavente-Fernandez was not in accordance with corporate policy.