Iraqi refugee alleges anti-Muslim culture the norm at Boston Whole Foods

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BOSTON — An Iraqi refugee who had held a job as an overnight stocker at a city Whole Foods grocery store has taken the supermarket chain to federal court, claiming he faced rampant racism at the hands of two co-workers and that complaints to his superiors went ignored.

Emad Siddeeq, who lives in Revere and began working for the grocery giant in August 2013, claims he “routinely complained to his supervisors at Whole Foods about the discrimination and harassment, yet no remedial action was taken.”

“The Whole Foods Ink Block location in Boston, Massachusetts is embedded in an anti-Muslim ‘culture’ where it became the norm to degrade and disparage Mr. Siddeeq simply because of his religion, national origin and ethnicity,” his lawsuit claims.

Moreover, Siddeeq’s attorneys claim that the Austin, Texas-based company has “outright agreed” in writing that the work environment is hostile to Muslims. What Siddeeq’s complaint does not note, however, is the ethnicity of his two immigrant co-workers — a Vietnamese Catholic and a Christian from Ghana.

Nevertheless, Siddeeq claims he was singled-out by his two co-workers merely due to his Muslim faith. Siddeeq in his lawsuit outlines several alleged instances, including the times the two co-workers cracked “vile and disgusting” jokes about Siddeeq’s religion and even claims that they nicknamed him “Bin Laden.”

“Both (coworkers) would also routinely comment to Siddeeq that ‘all Muslims are terrorists’ and ‘all Muslims like to kill,’” the lawsuit states, adding that the two would also joke about how Siddeeq wanted to “blow up” the Whole Foods Ink Block location. “Because of the daily harassment, discrimination and the hostile work environment at Ink Block, Siddeeq would often tell his wife that he was ‘going to war’ instead of going to work.

“This is quite ironic given the fact that Siddeeq actually fled his home country of Iraq because of war.”

Siddeeq also claims that the confrontations later turned physical, ultimately resulting in him being fired from his job. He alleged that one of his co-workers even deliberately pushed a hand jack into his leg, hurting his foot.

According to Siddeeq, a total of six complaints he brought to his supervisors over the course of 10 months did nothing to stem the discrimination and harassment. Siddeeq was ultimately fired from his job following a physical confrontation.

“To be sure, Siddeeq was ‘pushed to the edge’ and got into a physical fight because of the discrimination, harassment and hostile work environment he faced daily,” the lawsuit states.

Siddeeq’s co-worker, however, remained on the job. After his firing, Siddeeq filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. He claimed in his lawsuit that he was denied of unemployment benefits over Whole Foods’ position that he “was terminated because he engaged in deliberate misconduct in willful disregard of its interest.”

“However, on appeal, after a hearing, the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance reversed and decided Siddeeq was entitled to unemployment benefits,” his lawsuit added.

In May the company submitted a position statement to MCAD regarding Siddeeq’s complaint. The statement, including in court filings, dismissed Siddeeq’s claim as meritless and alleged that Siddeeq was “tough to work with.”

Whole Foods noted in its position statement that it maintains a “zero tolerance policy” when it comes to harassment but also claimed that joking about ethnicity also appeared to be part of the culture for workers manning the overnight stocking shift.

“To the extent that any comments were made to Siddeeq regarding his religion or culture, such as ‘Muslim terrorist’ or ‘Bin Laden,’ all of these comments were made in a joking context and were just part of the culture of the Grocery Overnight Team, to which Siddeeq contributed,” the statement added.

According to additional court filings, Siddeeq is demanding $500,000 in damages.

Whole Foods, in response to inquiries about Siddeeq’s claims, released a statement to the Boston Business Journal denying Siddeeq’s allegations.

“We celebrate the diversity of our team members, which spans countless cultures, races, religions and sexual orientations,” the statement read. “We pride ourselves on creating a workplace that is inclusive and safe and we have routinely been recognized as a top place to work.

“Whole Foods Market has a zero tolerance policy for any form of harassment and we take allegations of such extremely seriously.”

Read the entire complaint, including additional exhibits:

2016-08-22 Siddeeq v Whole Foods by Evan on Scribd