Syeeda Hussaini has suffered from neck pain the past few years, to the extent that it’s difficult for her to drive and get a good night’s rest. So on a recent weekend, she, her husband, and their three kids loaded up the car and drove less than a mile to Mattress Firm. Her husband, Mohammad, encouraged her to lie on different beds to see which one felt best.
She said the store manager approached, but oddly didn’t want to help. He told the family that he wouldn’t sell them a mattress for security reasons, she said.
Hussaini, 27, who is Muslim, covers all but her hands, feet and eyes in public to show respect for femininity and her religion. She said the manager told her she needed to show her face for service. Mohammad, a pathology resident at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, tried to explain that his wife dressed this way to be modest, much like Catholic nuns. But the manager stomped off, they say.
Hussaini wrote a letter to a regional representative of the company after the March 12 visit to the store. An official at Mattress Firm headquarters in Houston said the company “has a zero tolerance policy on racial and religious profiling.” Spokeswoman Sunni Goodman would not comment specifically about the manager, but she confirmed the encounter happened. “As soon as we were informed of the incident, we took appropriate action to address the situation,” she said. The manager no longer works for Mattress Firm.
There have been other recent complaints in the region. Advocates said emotions are running high since a Muslim community center was proposed near ground zero in New York and since a Florida pastor burned a Quran, the holy book of the Islamic faith.
“It’s harder to be a Muslim in the United States now than at any time since 9/11,” said James Hacking III, a lawyer and head of the Muslim task force of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri. On Monday, two of Hacking’s Muslim clients filed a lawsuit in St. Louis County against Bankers Life and Casualty Co., and Daniel Colvis, a branch manager in Chesterfield, alleging violations of the Missouri Human Rights Act.
Ali Badran and Warrad Warrad of Florissant, who were sales agents at the life and health insurance company, claim that Colvis “repeatedly made disparaging and defamatory comments” about their race, religion and ethnicity in front of other employees. Colvis is accused of making hostile comments to the plaintiffs including, “please don’t blow yourselves up.” He allegedly told Warrad to shave off a neatly trimmed beard and asked both of them if they were related to Osama Bin Laden and if they danced on 9/11.
Colvis fired Badran in 2009 and Warrad in 2010, even though they had stronger sales histories than non-Muslim agents, according to the lawsuit.