Muslim ex-Whole Foods employee sues company for discrimination

Whole Foods MarketA Muslim man formerly employed at a Whole Foods Market in Philadelphia is suing the company, claiming he was mistreated for going on a pilgrimage to Mecca and for praying at work during his breaks.

Glenn Mack Jr., 24, had been working at the Philadelphia store for about two years and, said his lawyer, loved his job. In the fall of 2010, he made a vacation request to take 18 days off, 2½ months before his time off was to start. Whole Foods requires two-weeks’ notice for time off. Mack’s plan was to go to Saudi Arabia and make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiest city in Islam.

“When [Mack’s supervisor] discovered [Mack] was going to Mecca for his pilgrimage, that’s when things started to change,” said Mack’s attorney, Amara Chaudhry, the civil rights director at the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “He was told his job would not be guaranteed upon his return.”

In a complaint filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Mack claimed his supervisor “had previously been heard making Islamaphobic comments,” according to Chaudhry, and Mack said he was given a difficult ultimatum. “His supervisor apparently said to him, ‘You can choose. It’s either your job or your religion,'” Chaudhry said. Mack chose his religion and made his pilgrimage.

When he returned to Whole Foods, he was demoted from full-time to part-time status, and he said his co-workers treated him differently. “People started to interfere with him while he was praying,” Chaudhry said. “He had a secluded area away from customers where he would go during breaks to pray.” Eventually, Mack resorted to praying outside next to a Dumpster.

Mack complained to human resources and was restored to full-time status but was fired about three months later. Chaudhry said he was fired “allegedly for attendance reasons,” but he had not received any warning or notification before Whole Foods ended his employment.

“[Mack] had been with the company since 2008 and had actually received many accolades,” Chaudhry said. “He had been an exemplary employee by all accounts.”

ABC News, 8 November 2011

See also Philly Now, which reports on a CAIR press conference over Mack’s case.