Chipotle is being sued by a federal agency that accuses it of religious harassment and retaliation after a restaurant chain manager in Kansas forcibly removed an employee’s hijab, a headscarf worn by some Muslim women.
In a lawsuit filed earlier this week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged how Kevin Silva Garcia, an assistant manager at a Chipotle in Lenexa, Kansas, repeatedly harassed the employee, Areej Saifan, in 2021 by asking her to give him her hair to show, despite her refusal.
After several weeks, the harassment culminated in him grabbing her hijab and partially removing it, the complaint said.
The manager’s “offensive and incessant requests” to remove her hijab, and his attempt to physically remove it, were “unwelcome, intentional and severe, based on religion, and created a hostile work environment based on religion,” claims the complaint.
Chipotle ultimately fired Garcia, while Saifan also filed a report with Lenexa police.
Areej Saifan, left, received assistance from the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Kansas to help report the incident. Moussa Elbayoumy, right, of CAIR Kansas said he helped the teen file the complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The fast-food chain’s chief corporate affairs officer, Laurie Schalow, said the company is encouraging employees to report concerns, including through an anonymous hotline.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy towards discrimination of any kind and have dismissed the employee in question,” she said in a statement.
The harassment started in July 2021, when the manager, Garcia, started asking Saifan, who was 19 at the time, to take off her hijab because he wanted to see her hair.
According to the complaint, Garcia demanded to see her hair at least 10 times over the course of a month.
She refused on every occasion, saying she wore it because of her religious beliefs.
Saifan refused to take off her hijab on every occasion, saying she wore it because of her religious beliefs
Saifan shared her experiences with the EEOC. She has since resigned from Chipotle
Saifan then complained to another supervisor that the incidents made her feel uncomfortable, but no further action was taken against the manager, the complaint said.
One evening during the shutdown in August 2021, Garcia allegedly reached out and partially pulled her hijab off her head.
The next day, Saifan gave her two weeks’ notice.
Chipotle did not schedule her shifts during those two weeks, even though other non-Muslim employees who submitted their notices remained scheduled for work during that time, the complaint alleged.
The lawsuit alleges that Chipotle violated federal civil rights law that protects employees and job applicants from discrimination based on religion, race, ethnicity, gender and national origin.
Chipotle ultimately fired the manager, while Saifan, pictured, filed a report with Lenexa police
Chipotle fired the assistant manager at their Lenexa, Kansas franchise, pictured
In its lawsuit, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said it wants Chipotle to implement policies that provide equal employment opportunities for employees of all religions and to pay workers’ compensation.
Saifan said she felt the need to report the incident to draw attention to the manager’s allegedly abusive actions and let others know it was not something they should do.
‘I don’t want this to happen to me, and especially no one else. Of course, you know, it’s not just about being respectful to Muslim colleagues, to any religion, everyone, everyone has different religious beliefs and choices. And you have to respect that you have to adapt to that.”