Chipotle sued after Kansas manager accused of ripping off employee’s hijab

Chipotle sued after Kansas manager accused of ripping off employee’s hijab

Areej Saifan says her manager repeatedly asked to see her hair and that he kept harassing her until one day he pulled off her hijab, an Islamic head covering

Sarah Al-Arshani

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing Chipotle on behalf of a Muslim teenager who says her assistant manager ripped off her hijab at one of the chain’s Kansas locations.

Areej Saifan’s supervisor asked her to show him her hair more than a dozen times during the summer of 2021 in Lenexa, Kansas, sometimes in front of co-workers, according to the lawsuit obtained by USA TODAY on Monday.

Saifan, who was 19 at the time, refused to remove her hijab, an Islamic head covering, and asked the assistant manager to leave her alone. She told him that she covered her hair for religious reasons and that his request was inappropriate, according to the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Kansas.

Their conflict culminated when the supervisor grabbed Saifan’s hijab and partially removed it, and Chipotle retaliated by not scheduling her to work afterward, lawsuit said.

Those actions amount to a violation of federal law, the EEOC said in a news release.

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“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.”

More: Massachusetts school says it ‘mishandled’ student receiving uniform infraction for wearing hijab

What does Chipotle say?

Saifan told another supervisor about the unwelcome behavior, and that supervisor spoke to the assistant manager and asked him to stop on at least one occasion, according to the lawsuit. But that supervisor did not report the harassment to higher management, a violation of Chipotle’s policies, according to the lawsuit

In a statement to USA TODAY, Chipotle spokesperson Laurie Schalow said the chain encourages employees to report concerns immediately.

“We have a zero tolerance policy for discrimination of any kind and we have terminated the employee in question,” she said in an emailed statement.

Schalow did not comment directly about Saifan’s lawsuit.

More: Massachusetts school says it ‘mishandled’ student receiving uniform infraction for wearing hijab

‘Hostile’ work environment

According to Saifan’s complaint, the assistant manager’s behavior was “unwelcome, intentional, severe, based on religion, and created a hostile working environment based on religion.”

The EEOC said the alleged behavior was a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination and harassment based on several protected classes including religion.

“People of faith have a right to work free from harassment based on their religious beliefs and practices,” Andrea 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.”

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