McDonald’s settles Fresno lawsuit over firing Muslim employee for beard request

McDonald’s Restaurants of California Inc. will pay $50,000 to a Muslim employee who was fired in 2005 after one of its Fresno restaurants refused his request to grow a beard for religious reasons.

The payment is part of an agreement announced Friday by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission to settle a religious-discrimination lawsuit against the restaurant chain.

Shaheed Khan, who worked at a McDonald’s restaurant on West Shaw Avenue near Valentine Avenue, asked his managers in the summer of 2005 to accommodate his religious belief to wear a beard at work, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Fresno.

The lawsuit alleged that Khan’s request was denied and later terminated. Khan had worked at the restaurant since 2001 and was promoted to crew trainer in 2003.

The EEOC alleged that McDonald’s treatment of Khan were “unlawful employment practices … done with reckless disregard to Shaheed Khan’s federally protected rights.” Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to “make reasonable accommodations to the sincerely held religous beliefs of employees and applicants as long as this causes no harm to the business,” according to the EEOC.

“Workers have the right to request an accommodation which would allow them to work while still practicing their religious beliefs,” said Melissa Barrios, director of the Fresno EEOC office. “Employers must consider such requests and ensure that no negative actions are taken against workers who exercise this right.”

In addition to the $50,000 payment to Khan, the consent decree agreed to Friday by McDonald’s and the EEOC also requires the restaurant chain to purge Khan’s employee file of any negative references related to his religious request. McDonald’s also agreed to establish an anti-discrimination policy that will be distributed to managers of five McDonald’s restaurants in Fresno and Clovis, and provide training to managers about how to handle requests to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs.

Employees will also receive training about their rights, including freedom from religious discrimination and retaliation.

“We commend McDonald’s for its commitment to training and ensuring that its staff and managers are well-versed on laws relating to religious discrimination,” said Anna Y. Park, the EEOC’s regional attorney from Los Angeles who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Khan. “We hope other employers follow McDonald’s lead in promoting training and development of extensive non-discrimination policies.”

Fresno Bee, 20 December 2013