Stefanae Coleman is the Chicken Express employee from Fort Worth, Texas, who says she was sent home after refusing to remove her hijab. Coleman posted a video of her conversation with a restaurant manager on December 30, 2019, and the clip has gone viral. It is embedded below.
Coleman says she was the victim of discrimination and is asking for a public apology. She is still an employee at the restaurant.
A lawyer for Chicken Express has argued that Coleman’s discrimination claim is not accurate. In an email to Heavy, attorney Rhett Warren referred to the manager’s decision as a “mistake” and that it was the result of a lack of training, not bias.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. The Chicken Express Manager Told Stefanae Coleman That Her Hijab Was Not Part of the Uniform
Stefanae Coleman posted two videos to her Twitter account from her conversation with the manager at the Chicken Express location where she worked in Fort Worth. In the clips, the manager is heard repeatedly saying that a hijab is not part of the standard uniform.
He states that as an employee, Coleman is required to abide by the restaurant’s uniform policy. She counters that the employee handbook does not include any rules about religious headpieces and does not specifically restrict headscarves.
The manager argues, “It says you have to follow the Chicken Express uniform policy and it lists out what it is. And it doesn’t involve anything else.” He added, “Your job is your job. Your job has nothing to do with religion.”
The manager sent Coleman home for the day. She was paid for the hours she had been scheduled to work, according to attorney Rhett Warren, who is representing Chicken Express.
2. Coleman Returned to Work the Next Day & Received an Apology, But Says Other Workers Continued to Harass Her Over the Hijab
Stefanae Coleman went back to work the following day and was permitted to wear the hijab. Attorney Rhett Warren confirmed to Heavy via email that Coleman received an apology.
Coleman wrote on Twitter on December 31 that the store owner personally called her to apologize. She explained that the owner asked for help to create a new rule book concerning issues like this, and she agreed.
However, Coleman said she received hostile treatment from her coworkers after coming back to Chicken Express. She wrote in a follow-up tweet, “So I walk behind the counter and an employee is talking about me to another worker calling me a fake Muslim and that the Muslim community should hate me. So instead of saying something I let her talk. She continued on to say that there is no such thing as black Muslim women. And laughed at me while I was adjusting my hijab.”
Coleman told CNN that she felt “uncomfortable” due to the reaction from her coworkers and left early that day. She is still an employee of Chicken Express, according to the franchise’s attorney.
3. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Civil Rights Group, Is Representing Coleman But Does Not Plan to File a Lawsuit At This Time
Stefanae Coleman is being represented by the Dallas/Fort Worth division of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Executive director Faizan Syed told Heavy via email that the organization had been contacted by Chicken Express about the incident. He said that CAIR would work with this specific franchise to “implement cultural competency training for their branch.”
Syed confirmed that no lawsuits have been filed as a result of Coleman’s experience. He explained that CAIR is supporting Coleman through the process and that she “wants a public apology and for this situation to not happen to anyone in the future.”
Attorney Rhett Warren confirmed this arrangement as well, explaining that the diversity training would take place within the coming weeks.
4. Chicken Express’ Attorney: Stefanae Coleman Was Not Discriminated Against For Being Muslim
Stefanae Coleman wrote on social media following the incident that this was “discrimination at its finest.”
But Chicken Express argues that the incident was not related to discrimination and that she was not targeted for being Muslim. Attorney Rhett Warren wrote in an email to Heavy that it came down to a lack of training. Warren explained, “The manager was using a strict interpretation of the company policy that does not allow derivations from the standard employee uniform, and he unfortunately did not take religious liberty into consideration.”
He added, “The Chicken Express franchisee is addressing this issue through additional training, and Ms. Coleman has been asked to participate in developing the training so that a mistake like this will not happen again. The manager has been reprimanded for his decision, and he will receive further training on how to properly handle similar situations in the future.”
5. Stefanae Coleman Says She Converted to Islam In August 2019
Stefanae Coleman explained on Twitter on December 31 that she converted to Islam in August of 2019. She began working at the Chicken Express in October.
She wrote that at the time, she felt comfortable at the location because the handbook promised “equal opportunity for every religion.” Coleman said that when she was hired, she told the manager that she was Muslim and planned to wear hijabs in the future. She says she told him that she had ordered headscarves and was waiting for them to be delivered.
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