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Chipotle sued after manager ripped employee’s hijab after she refused his demands to see her hair

27th Oct 2023

Nadine Osman

Chipotle fast-food chain in the US is being sued for religious harassment and retaliation after a manager allegedly forcibly removed an employee’s hijab.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated in a lawsuit filed on September 27 that in 2021, an assistant manager at a branch in Lenexa, Kansas, regularly harassed the employee, Areej Saifan, by asking her to show him her hair, despite her refusal.

According to the lawsuit, after several weeks of harassment, Kevin Silva Garcia grabbed and partially removed her headscarf.

The manager’s “offensive and incessant requests” that she remove her hijab and his attempt to forcibly remove it were “unwelcome, intentional, severe, based on religion, and created a hostile working environment based on religion,” the complaint alleges.

Chipotle ultimately fired Garcia, while Saifan also filed a report with Lenexa Police.

The fast-food chain’s chief corporate affairs officer, Laurie Schalow, said the company encourages 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,” she said in a statement.

Garcia began harassing Saifan, who was 19 at the time, in July 2021 by asking her to remove her headscarf because he wanted to see her hair. He made the same demand at least 10 times over a month.
She refused on every occasion, saying she wore it because of her religious beliefs.

According to the complaint, Saifan then complained to another supervisor about the incidents, but no further action was taken against the boss.

Garcia allegedly reached out and took her hijab partially off her head one night during the closing in August 2021.

The following day, Saifan gave her two weeks’ notice.

According to the complaint, Chipotle did not schedule her for any shifts during those two weeks, even though other non-Muslim employees who filed their notice were still scheduled for work during that period.

The lawsuit claims 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 demanded Chipotle implement equal employment opportunities policies and pay damages to the employee.

Saifan added that she felt compelled to disclose the incident, not just to bring attention to her ordeal but also to serve as a warning to would-be offenders.

“I don’t want this to happen to me or, especially, anyone else. Of course, you know, it’s not only about being respectful to Muslim coworkers, to any religion, anybody; everyone has different religious beliefs and choices. And you must respect and accommodate that.”

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

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