WASHINGTON (RNS) AutoZone harassed a Sikh employee for wearing a turban and eventually fired him, according to a lawsuit announced Tuesday (Sept. 28) by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission.
The suit said employee Frank Mahoney-Burroughs was treated like any other employee at the store in Everett, Mass., until he converted to Sikhism.

“For years, our client was a model employee,” Sandeep Kaur, a staff attorney for the Sikh Coalition said in a statement. “Things changed as soon as he converted to Sikhism and started wearing a turban. Then, AutoZone managers called him a terrorist, told him that he was offending customers and terminated him.”

When customers made terrorist jokes or called Mahoney-Burroughs “Bin Laden,” none of his co-workers stepped up and intervened, the EEOC claims.

“I spent more time with AutoZone staff than with my own family and friends,” said Mahoney-Burroughs. “It was very painful to be humiliated and insulted by them. They made me feel as though I had no right to practice my faith.”

In addition to name-calling at the auto parts store, he was not permitted to wear a turban or the kara, a religious bracelet, both of which are articles of faith for Sikhs.

When Mahoney-Burroughs complained about the discrimination, he was fired. “When I complained, I was discarded like a piece of trash,” he said.

Religious harassment and discrimination violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Sikh Coalition filed charges against AutoZone on Mahoney-Burroughs’ behalf last March.

The Boston Bar Association’s Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is also representing Mahoney-Burroughs. The Lawyer’s Committee has defended victims of racial and national origin discrimination for 50 years, but this is its first case of religious discrimination.

“The Lawyer’s Committee chose to join the Sikh Coalition in this lawsuit because AutoZone’s egregious actions are occurring in other workplaces, where religious minorities face bigoted and unlawful discrimination after 9/11,” said Laura Maslow-Armand, the committee’s staff attorney.

The EEOC is seeking stronger anti-discrimination policies and training at AutoZone and monetary relief for Mahoney-Burroughs.

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