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Bigoted Chicken Express manager forces employee to remove her hijab or go home

Single mom Stefanae Coleman was forced to go home when she would not remove her hijab as instructed by her manager at Chicken Express.

Bigoted Chicken Express manager forces employee to remove her hijab or go home
Image Source: NoSystem images/Getty Images/Twitter

Over the past four years, hate crimes have been on the rise in the United States (we wonder why... Couldn't possibly have anything to do with someone whose name rhymes with 'dump,' could it?). Those in minority groups have found themselves targeted for simply being themselves. If hate crimes are on the rise, it wouldn't be wrong to assume that instances of injustice are too. In the most recent case of discrimination against a minority, a racist manager at a branch of Chicken Express in Texas forced a woman employee who had recently converted to Islam to either remove her hijab (a religious headdress worn by Muslims) or go home unpaid, CNN reports. Needless to say, the incident has caused an outrage online.


Stefanae Coleman, 22, converted to Islam in August 2019. In October of the same year, she began working at a local branch of Chicken Express in Texas. Less than three months of working there, she entered her workplace wearing a hijab. She was excited to don the religious head covering and hoped that her coworkers would be supportive of her decisions. Instead, however, she was met with blatant Islamophobia and discrimination by her manager who claimed that her hijab did not meet dress code requirements. She told CNN in an interview, "Once I clocked in, the manager said, 'Take off anything that doesn't involve Chicken Express,' which I knew he was talking about my hijab."


Instead of taking her hijab off, Coleman simply ignored her manager and went to the back to take off her jacket and place her purse down. About five minutes later, she was called into his office so he could tell her to take the hijab off "because it's not a part of the work uniform." The incident has left Coleman, a single mother, feeling "disrespected, baffled, and highly upset." Thankfully, she was able to capture the exchange on video and post it to Twitter. Uploading two videos of the terrible and humiliating experience, she stated, "I converted to Islam not too long ago and I started wearing my hijab, I went to work today and was kicked out because my hijab was not a part the “dress code” apparently and I wasn’t allowed to wear it. Don’t come to the chicken express in Fort Worth!"


In one of the videos, the manager can be heard saying, "Your job is your job. Your job has nothing to do with religion." In another, he states, "The job requires a specific uniform. [The hijab] is not a part of the uniform; you as a paid employee cannot wear it." Though he cited the Chicken Express employee handbook, explicit mentions about headscarves or other forms of religious clothing are not made. Nonetheless, the handbook does read, "Only the Chicken Express hats or visors may be worn." But several other branches of Chicken Express permit their employees to wear religious head coverings with no issue.


Following the incident, Coleman was contacted by the Chicken Express franchisee who operates the branch where Coleman is employed and paid for the hours she would have worked had she not been unfairly sent home. The owner also apologized for the manager's behavior. Rhett Warren, an attorney representing the franchisee affirmed, "The manager's decision to send Ms. Coleman home for wearing the headscarf was due to a lack of training. 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." Furthermore, Warren added that the store plans to rewrite its dress code and improve training in order to prevent similar incidents from taking place in the future.


But Coleman is not convinced. She was still harassed by coworkers who disagree with her decision to convert and wear the hijab. The experience has left her feeling immensely uncomfortable and rethinking her employment with Chicken Express. Faizan Syed, executive director of the civil rights group representing Coleman in the matter, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), stated, "Stefanae agreed to come to work but due to the overall negative hostile atmosphere at work she couldn't stay and decided to leave." As the matter is escalated to the judiciary, Coleman affirmed, "It was racism and discrimination... They're just trying to sweep it under the rug."


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