A federal agency filed a lawsuit against restaurant chain Chipotle over allegations a teenage worker at a Kansas location faced religious harassment and retaliation after a manager forcibly removed her hijab, a headscarf worn by some Muslim women.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claimed in the lawsuit filed Wednesday that an assistant manager at a Chipotle in Lenexa, Kansas, repeatedly asked the then-19-year-old worker to remove her hijab and show him her hair starting in July 2021. He demanded to see her hair at least 10 times over the course of a month, but she refused each time, telling him that she wore it because of her religious beliefs, according to the complaint.
The victim complained to another supervisor that the manager was making her uncomfortable, but the franchise failed to act, the complaint says.
Chipotle’s failure to address the victim’s complaints led to the manager escalating his harassment in which he grabbed and forcibly removed part of her hijab one day in August of that year, according to the complaint.
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The teenager reported the incident, but Chipotle again did not take the necessary corrective action to stop the manager’s harassment, the complaint alleges. She submitted her two weeks notice the day after the manager grabbed her hijab.
The complaint alleges that the manager’s “offensive and incessant requests” that she remove her hijab and his attempt to take it off himself were “unwelcome, intentional, severe, based on religion, and created a hostile working environment based on religion.”
The EEOC also accuses Chipotle of retaliating against the victim by refusing to schedule her to work additional shifts after she submitted her two weeks unless she agreed to transfer locations while at the same time allowing the manager to continue working at the same store. According to the complaint, other non-Muslim employees who submitted their notice continued to be scheduled for work during that time.
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“People of faith have a right to work free from harassment based on their religious beliefs and practices,” Andrea G. Baran, regional attorney for the EEOC’s St. Louis District office, said in a statement. “Harassment of women and teen girls who choose to express their religious beliefs by wearing modest clothing or head coverings is never acceptable.”
The alleged misconduct by Chipotle violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination because of a person’s religion, the EEOC said. The agency said the law also prohibits retaliation against employees who complain about discriminatory treatment.
The EEOC said it filed the lawsuit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement, and that it is seeking monetary relief for the victim, an order prohibiting future religious discrimination and other relief.
“Individuals should not have to choose between their sincerely held religious beliefs and their jobs,” David Davis, director of the EEOC’s St. Louis District Office, said in a statement. “Federal law protects the rights of all workers to observe their religious practices free from harassment and retaliation.”
Chipotle’s chief corporate affairs officer Laurie Schalow said the company urges employees to report concerns, including through an anonymous hotline.
“We have a zero–tolerance policy for discrimination of any kind and we have terminated the employee in question,” Schalow said in a statement to The Associated Press.
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