Yuppy-haven supermarket Whole Foods has always carefully maintained a public image of embracing diversity. That polished exterior was tarnished in August when the corporation caved to the Islamophobic rants of conservatives, and told all its U.S. stores not to promote Ramadan this year.
Now a former employee is suing Whole Foods, alleging that he was harassed and ultimately terminated because of his Islamic faith. Supervisors turned on him when they learned he was making the traditional Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, and the situation got so bad that 24-year-old Glenn Mack had to resort to praying by the dumpsters outside the store:
Mack said he had been well-respected at the Whole Foods store at 20th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Philadelphia.[…] Mack said his troubles started after his supervisors discovered that he was going to use his vacation time for the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage many Muslims make to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, birthplace of the prophet Muhammad.
He said he requested time for the vacation months in advance of the November 2010 trip, and received approval. But shortly before leaving, he said, his supervisors gave him a choice of keeping his job or going on the trip.
He went on the trip. When he returned, he didn’t lose his job immediately, but he said, attitudes toward him had changed. Supervisors would follow him on his breaks to a back corner of the supply room where he typically went to pray. For privacy, Mack said he resorted to praying outside next to the Dumpster.
After Mack took his vacation, he was downgraded from full-time to seasonal status — although he was returned to full-time status after he complained to the company’s human-relations department that he felt he discriminated against because of his religion. He continued to be heckled and followed by supervisors even after he was reinstated, and three months later, he was fired.
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The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is representing Mack, and has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. CAIR-Philadelphia Civil Rights Director Amara Chaudhry. “We hope that a company eager to take the money of Muslim shoppers would also be similarly welcoming of Muslim employees,” Chaudhry said.
Whole Foods’ insistence that it strives to engage employees and support their rights is seriously undermined by its actions towards them. In 2009, a manager at a San Francisco store threatened employees that there would be retribution if they tried to form a union.