A Muslim man who contends he was wrongfully terminated from his job at Whole Foods because of his religion has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to his legal counsel.
The charge of discrimination, which was cross-filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, alleges that Glenn Mack, Jr., 24, was fired from his job at the retail chain on Feb. 21 of this year soon after returning from a pilgrimage to the holy Islamic site of Mecca in the Middle East, according to Amara Chaudhry, staff attorney for the Philadelphia office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Chaudhry, who joined CAIR-Philadelphia after Mack’s firing, said she took the unusual step of making the EEOC complaint public because her client wanted customers of the supermarket to see that the company doesn’t practice what it preaches.
“Primarily, we wanted to make sure that Whole Foods customers … were aware that Whole Foods may not be as welcoming of all persons as a company as some of their promotional ads and some of the PR would suggest,” Chaudhry said in a Wednesday phone interview with the Pennsylvania Record.
Chaudhry said Whole Foods billed itself as the first supermarket chain the country to promote Ramadan, the holiest month on the Muslim calendar.
Under federal law, discrimination complaints must be filed with the EEOC before they can turn into full-blown civil rights lawsuits. Only after a complainant exhausts all administrative remedies, and right-to-sue letters are issued, can civil suits be filed in federal court, Chaudhry said.
In the case of Mack, he had approached the Philadelphia CAIR office back in March, a month after his firing, but was told no staff attorney yet existed at the local branch, according to Chaudhry.
Mack was told to file his complaint pro-se with the EEOC, which he did on March 11 of this year.
After being hired by CAIR-Philadelphia in September, Chaudhry learned of Mack’s case, and subsequently reached out to the former Whole Foods employee, who worked at the location on Pennsylvania Avenue in a gentrified neighborhood in Philadelphia known as the Art Museum Area. The two met for the first time last month, she said.
Chaudhry said Mack claims he was fired from his job specifically because of his Muslim faith.
“Here we are, in November 2011, and we’re dealing with a case that actually involves the termination of an employee when his supervisors realized he is a Muslim,” Chaudhry said.
Chaudhry said she and her client are asserting that Mack was “outed” as a result of his making the pilgrimage to Mecca.
“We assert that he was wrongfully terminated when his supervisors learned that he was Muslim,” she said.
The case is rather surprising, Chaudhry said, in that Whole Foods typically prides itself on being tolerant of all faiths, something that is reflected in its food selection, which includes fare from various cultures.
“The contradiction between the company’s stated ideals … and Glen Mack’s reality is rather apparent,” Chaudhry said.
Chaudhry said she has formally entered her appearance on behalf of Mack, and has informed the EEOC and Whole Foods of such.
Whole Foods is being represented by the law firm Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, according to Chaudhry. She said she’s requested the briefs the firm has apparently filed in response to the EEOC filing, but hasn’t yet specifically spoken to an Ogletree representative.
The Pennsylvania Record placed calls to four different Ogletree offices, but was unable to obtain comment. A reporter was told nobody in particular handles press matters, and that a name of an attorney was needed to proceed with any media inquiry.
Chaudhry said she didn’t immediately know what Ogletree lawyer is handling the Whole Foods case.
What she does know, she said, is that the supermarket chain is denying the allegations.
“I am aware that they have filed a response,” to Mack’s complaint, Chaudhry said. “I know that they’re denying all charges.”
Chaudhry said she plans to file an amended complaint with the EEOC sometime next week.
In a written statement provided by a Whole Foods media representative, the company said that while it doesn’t comment on specific personnel matters, it does stand by its policies.
"We have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to discrimination. While we don't give out employment details for privacy reasons, we can say that we deny this allegation but continue to look [at] it from every angle to ensure absolute consistency,” the statement reads. “It's well known that we value and celebrate diversity at Whole Foods Market. Anytime team members request special schedules, we work to accommodate them within reason. This, of course, includes breaks for prayer and approved time off.”