Every day for nearly 30 years, Walid Elkhatib has sold doughnuts. Glazed, chocolate frosted, Bavarian Kreme and other varieties. As a Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee, he expanded the menu to include breakfast sandwiches, such as egg and cheese bagels.
But he drew the line at serving sandwiches with sausage, ham or bacon because his Muslim faith forbids him from eating or handling pork — a departure from company policy that led Dunkin’ Donuts in 2002 to threaten it would take away his two Chicago-area franchises.
So for five years Elkhatib has been waging a legal battle against the Boston chain claiming racial bias, not religious discrimination. The federal court of appeals in Chicago last month reinstated the case, blurring the lines between religion and race.
“What is life without dignity and your beliefs?” said Elkhatib, a 57-year-old Arab who was born in Jerusalem and came to Chicago in 1971.
Elkhatib’s case highlights the ongoing challenges businesses face in dealing with increasingly diverse workplaces. For instance, Islamic dietary restrictions, dress and grooming requirements and the five-time-daily prayer vigil have become sources of friction.
Muslims have filed thousands of complaints of workplace discrimination in recent years, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. In one high-profile case in 1999 the federal courts found that the Newark Police Department’s no-beard policy discriminated against two Muslim police officers. Companies have become more accommodating of the religious practices of Islamic workers, setting aside quiet rooms for prayer and allowing women to wear the hijab, or loose-fitting clothing that includes a head covering.