A federal agency has sued the restaurant chain Chipotle, accusing it of religious harassment and retaliation after a manager at a Kansas location forcibly removed an employee’s hijab, a headscarf worn by some Muslim women.
In a lawsuit filed on Wednesday, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged that in 2021, an assistant manager at a Chipotle in Lenexa, Kansas, repeatedly harassed the employee by asking her to show him her hair, despite her refusal.
After several weeks, the harassment culminated in him grabbing and partially removing her hijab, according to the complaint.
The manager’s “offensive and incessant requests” that she remove her hijab, and his attempt to physically take it off, were “unwelcome, intentional, severe, based on religion, and created a hostile working environment based on religion”, the complaint alleged.
Chipotle’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 an emailed statement.
The harassment began in July 2021, when the manager began asking the employee, who was 19 at the time, to remove her hijab because he wanted to see her hair.
According to the complaint, he demanded to see her hair at least 10 times over the course of one month. She refused on every occasion, saying she wore it because of her religious beliefs.
The employee complained to another supervisor that the incidents made her uncomfortable, but no further action was taken against the manager, the complaint said.
One night during closing in August 2021, the manager allegedly reached out and pulled her hijab partially off her head.
The following day, the employee gave her two weeks’ notice.
Chipotle did not schedule her for any shifts during those two weeks even though other non-Muslim employees who submitted their notice continued to be scheduled for work during that time, the complaint alleged.
The lawsuit claims that 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 said it wants Chipotle to institute policies that provide equal employment opportunities for employees of all religions and pay damages to the employee.