An assistant manager at a Chipotle restaurant in Kansas “yanked” off a Muslim teen worker’s hijab, a religious head covering, after she repeatedly refused to show him her hair, a lawsuit alleges.
The incident amounts to religious harassment and retaliation, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the burrito chain.
“Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination – including harassment – because of a person’s religion,” the EEOC said in a statement. “The EEOC seeks monetary relief for the victim, as well as an order prohibiting future religious discrimination, and other relief.”
Religious harassment claims
According to the suit, Kevin Silva Garcia, an assistant manager at a Chipotle location in Lenexa, repeatedly asked line-worker Areej Saifan to show him her hair, which was covered by a hijab, while working with the then 19-year-old during the summer of 2021.
Saifan refused and demanded that he leave her alone, the suit alleges, but claims Garcia was not dissuaded.
“Garcia demanded to see Saifan’s hair approximately 10 to 15 times over the course of approximately one month” the lawsuit states.
The suit claims Saifan complained to management, but Chipotle did not act to stop Garcia’s harassment.
Garcia ultimately grabbed and removed Saifan’s hijab from her head, according to the suit.
“Chipotle’s inaction resulted in the manager escalating his abuse, ultimately grabbing and forcibly removing part of the teen’s hijab,” the EEOC said in its statement.
Soon after the alleged incident, Saifan resigned, submitting her two weeks notice that August, “as a result of Garcia’s threats and management’s repeated failures to address the harassment,” the lawsuit states.
Saifan was not scheduled for any shifts during her period of notice, while other non-Muslim employees who had also tendered their two weeks’ notice were assigned shifts, according to the suit, even though it’s Chipotle’s policy to do so.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination of any kind and we have terminated the employee in question,” Laurie Schalow, Chipotle’s chief corporate affairs officer, said in a statement to CBS News.
The lawsuit, however, argues that Garcia, the assistant manager, was later terminated because he was in a romantic relationship with his supervisor, not because of the alleged harassment.
EEOC also alleges that Chipotle “constructively discharged” Saifan, meaning it created an environment so hostile that she was left with no alternatives other than to resign.
“Individuals should not have to choose between their sincerely held religious beliefs and their jobs. Federal law protects the rights of all workers to observe their religious practices free from harassment and retaliation,” David Davis, director of the EEOC’s St. Louis District Office, said in a statement.
The EEOC said is seeking compensation for lost wages in addition to nonpecuniary damages including emotional distress, pain and suffering, anxiety, loss of enjoyment of life, humiliation, embarrassment and inconvenience, according to the suit.
“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.”