Diamond Powell, 28, of Baltimore, sued her former employer, Susdewitt Management LLC of Lanham, Maryland, on Thursday with the backing of attorneys from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group.
The Morgan State University graduate was Christian in 2016 when she started working for the company, which operated two McDonald’s locations at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Powell converted to Islam in February 2017 and began wearing a hijab, a religious head covering, to work.
A manager told her to “take that hoodie off” her head while another manager told her, “You don’t have to wait for God to wake up for you to pray,” Powell’s federal lawsuit alleges. Powell has a religious belief that she must pray five times a day at prescribed times. A general manager initially granted Powell’s request to take short prayer breaks during her shifts, according to her lawsuit.
“Her prayer breaks lasted no longer than a typical bathroom break,” the suit says. But the general manager prohibited Powell from praying in a quiet spot at the airport and instead told her to pray in a dirty stock room, the lawsuit alleges. After Powell continued praying outside the restaurant, the general manager eventually revoked her request to take a prayer break, saying, “God will understand,” according to the lawsuit.
“By doing so, the general manager forced Powell to choose between continuing her employment with McDonald’s or sacrificing her sincerely-held religious beliefs,” the suit says. Powell resigned from the job in April 2018. Her suit accuses Susdewitt Management of violating the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Susdewitt Management owner Isaac Green disputed the lawsuit’s “characterizations” but said the company is reviewing Powell’s allegations and will “respond accordingly.” “We pride ourselves on our diverse workforce, and we have policies in place to provide a welcoming workplace and to respect the accommodations employees may need for religious reasons,” Green said in a statement provided by a McDonald’s corporate spokeswoman.
The suit also claims Powell was sexually harassed at work, with several managers and co-workers asking her if she was a virgin and a shift manager making sexually explicit remarks. “No Muslim woman should ever, ever experience what I went through, and I hope this lawsuit will help other Muslim women,” Powell said Thursday during an online news conference with her attorneys.
Zainab Chaudry, director of CAIR's Maryland office, said the group has seen an uptick in the number of incidents in which Muslims have experienced hostile work environments because of their faith. “Unfortunately, this disturbing case is a glaring reminder of the challenges that Muslim employees often face within the workplace,” she said.