In 2008, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission went to the Fourth Circuit against Sunbelt Rentals for a case involving a religious harassment suit against a man who was a Muslim.
The plaintiff was an African American man named Clinton Ingram. He converted to Islam while in the US military. He was hired by Sunbelt in October 2001 and was terminated in February 2003. He stated he was subjected to a hostile environment because of his religion. He was hired a month after the attacks on the country, so that was taken into consideration in the case.
The employees of Sunbelt knew that Ingram was a Muslim and they were sure to accommodate his religious beliefs. He could have short prayer sessions throughout the day with a longer one on Fridays. He was the only Muslim in his office, though, and wore a kufi (headgear) and a beard. He claimed that others targeted him because of his beliefs while working there by calling him a “towel head” and “Taliban.” They would challenge his allegiance to the USA and make comments about him being a terrorist. On occasion, his supervisors would participate in the harassment.
When the case was sent to the district court, they judged in favor of Sunbelt, claiming that the harassment wasn’t enough to establish a work environment that was hostile. They considered it to be just typical harassment from the workplace, not something based on his religion. They concluded that, had Ingram truly believed the harassment was because of his religion, that he would have put that in his complaint he sent to Human Resources.
When the claim went before the Fourth Circuit, they said that any reasonable jury would find that the harassment he faced was not welcome. Ingram had, in the past, complained in writing and in person about his supervisors harassing him. One employee commented that Ingram constantly complained when someone said something he thought could potentially be inappropriate. Ingram defended himself when someone called him “Taliban” or made other demeaning remarks about him. The same employee stated that Ingram became a target because he took everything so personally. Ingram soon left to work with a tree service in Fort Smith, AR.
The Court of Appeals stated that the district court was wrong in their findings that the harassment wasn’t religious based. They believed that the allegations were severe enough to meet the standards of religious discrimination. They determined that Sunbelt didn’t do anything in response to the complaints either.
This case seems to be one that is occurring more and more in our country as Muslims are seen in a bad light. Businesses need to ensure that the complaints brought forth by their employees are truly listened to and any appropriate actions are taken to resolve the issues. This is only one case of many to be considered.