A federal agency has filed a lawsuit against the popular restaurant chain Chipotle, alleging religious harassment and retaliatory actions against a teenage Muslim employee whose hijab was forcibly taken off by a manager.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is responsible for enforcing federal regulations that prohibit discrimination against job applicants and employees based on factors including race, color, religion, and sex, sued Chipotle on September 27 in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas.
The EEOC filed the lawsuit on behalf of Areej Saifan, a line server at the Chipotle Mexican Grill in the city of Lenexa in Kansas. According to the legal complaint, in the summer of 2021, an assistant manager at the Kansas establishment persistently requested that Saifan, then 19 years old, take off her hijab, a traditional Islamic headscarf, and coerced her into revealing her hair.
The lawsuit claims that even though the teenager rejected these advances and reported them to the management, Chipotle did not take appropriate action to halt the manager’s harassment.
In contrast, according to the lawsuit, Chipotle responded by retaliating against the teenager, insisting that she relocate to a different location as a condition for scheduling her for additional shifts. All the while, says the lawsuit, the restaurant chain permitted Saifan’s harasser to remain employed at the same location.
The lawsuit further asserts that Chipotle’s failure to intervene allowed the manager, identified in several media reports including the New York Times as Kevin Silva Garcia, to intensify his misconduct, culminating in him forcibly grabbing and removing a portion of the teenager’s hijab.
Garcia’s actions “created a hostile working environment based on religion,” according to the EEOC complaint, which notes that the manager’s discriminatory treatment, coupled with Chipotle’s failure to take any action against him, forced Saifan to resign her job.
Ten days later, Chipotle fired Garcia. However, the complaint asserts that the company’s decision to terminate Garcia was unrelated to his behavior toward Saifan.
Instead, as per court documents, his termination stemmed from a violation of company policy, specifically engaging in a consensual romantic relationship with another employee who held the position of shift manager.