A civil liberties group for Muslims on Friday called upon the Eagan-based company that owns Old Country Buffet to investigate an incident involving a girl who says she was denied a summer restaurant job because of her religious headscarf.
The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is asking Buffets Inc. to investigate the incident, offer a written apology and participate in the group’s workplace sensitivity and diversity training.
H. Thomas Mitchell, an executive vice president for privately held Buffets, which owns and operates more than 550 restaurants across the country, said he couldn’t comment on the specific allegations. “We are diligently investigating it,” he said.
“We are an equal opportunity employer and frankly view ourselves as a strong anchor in the diverse communities we are frequently in,” he added.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has become increasingly active on the issue of religion in the workplace. It says it’s seeking to educate employers about federal law restricting employment discrimination based on religion.
Employers must reasonably accommodate their employees’ or prospective employees’ religious beliefs unless doing so would cause an undue hardship. Incidents such as the one alleged at Old Country Buffet are not uncommon these days, said Lori Saroya, chairwoman for the group’s Minnesota chapter.
Religious discrimination claims are among the fastest-growing types filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, though they remain a modest percentage of overall claims. In 2007, religion charges grew 13 percent year over year to 2,900.
In the Minnesota incident, Maryam Abdi, 16, who lives across the street from the Old Country Buffet in Fridley, said she interviewed for a part-time job as a cashier in July.
At the start of the interview, she said the manager asked her if she wore her headscarf all the time. Abdi said yes, and explained that she wears the scarf as part of her religion. She said the manager told her it would violate the company’s uniform regulations and asked if she’d be willing to take it off for the job. Abdi declined, but said she told the manager she would be willing to match her scarf with the uniform.
The manager ended the interview, Abdi said, telling her to come back if she agreed to take it off. “We live in a nation that says equal rights,” she said Friday. “It’s not fair … I don’t want any of this happening to any other girls who wear scarves, and I would like to see a change.”