Couple say Tim Hortons worker told them to 'go back to your country'

The local office of a Muslim advocacy group filed a Michigan civil rights complaint Friday on behalf of an Ann Arbor area couple who say a Tim Hortons employee told them to "go back to your country" when the couple stopped in last month.

Ameur Dhaimini, 31, and his wife, Alaa Kouider, 27, who are Muslims and live in the Ann Arbor area, say they went to a Tim Hortons on Hewitt and Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti June 28 on their way to northern Michigan for a family vacation.

Kouider, a native of Lansing, said the clerk for the drive-through got their coffee order wrong and when she and her husband went inside to get a replacement order, an African-American clerk became belligerent with them and hurled "hostile" insults at them, eventually telling them to "go back to your country" and cursing at Kouider.

Koudier said the female employee told her during the tirade captured on cellphone video: "This isn't your country. Go back to your country. I thought you had your papers."

Koudier said it was even more "shocking" that the words came from the mouth of another minority.

"I don't expect any minority to treat another minority (that way) so it hurts a little more," Koudier said during a news conference at the CAIR Michigan office in Farmington Hills. "It was very hurtful. I've never been treated like that in my life."

Alaa Kouider describes the alleged discrimination as her husband, Ameur Dhaimini, listens.

The couple is Algerian-American.

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A store manager declined comment Friday and told a reporter to go to the company website to get a corporate phone number. 

Reached late Friday, company representatives said in an email to The Detroit News that the worker has since been let go. 

"We always want team members and guests to have a positive, welcoming and rewarding experience at our restaurants," the statement reads. "The team member involved in this incident has been terminated by the franchise as Tim Hortons does not tolerate any type of harassment in the workplace."

Telisha Weatherspoon-McKinney told The Detroit News on Friday that she was the worker recorded in the video, adding she was "wrong for saying that" but had been upset.

The 29-year-old contends the heated exchange erupted after the couple began acting rudely. Koudier, she claims, used offensive language toward her as well as "pointing fingers and going off" when entering.

Weatherspoon-McKinney, who had been working at the business only a few weeks before the incident, described the footage as a brief glimpse of a situation that escalated. 

"I don’t know them personally and they also offended me," she said.

Koudier, a mental health therapist, said the words stung and made her "ashamed of my country" to experience the "mistreatment" by the employee.

Dhaimini, an accountant, said: "I never thought I would experience that kind of treatment. I was shocked."

Koudier urged others who encounter similar incidents to speak up and "definitely not to stay silent." She said a Tim Hortons representative called her to apologize and to offer her a gift card for a free cup of coffee. 

Dawud Walid, the executive director of CAIR Michigan, said the offer was "offensive." He said similar acts are on the rise and are "permeating American society" as people are "emboldened" by the behavior of President Donald Trump toward people of color.

Weatherspoon-McKinney acknowledged that the recorded remarks echoed a controversial tweet by the president targeting four minority congresswomen. 

She said she dislikes Trump, is friendly with her Muslim neighbor and "I'm definitely not racist at all."

"I am wrong for saying that," Weatherspoon-McKinney said. "I was feeling wrong right after saying that, but I couldn’t take it back."

Weatherspoon-McKinney said she was hurt by her firing over the situation and would like to apologize to the couple.

"I wasn’t trying to offend them," Weatherspoon-McKinney said. "I was just upset."

Koudier said she would like to see Tim Hortons offer better employee training.

Amy Doukoure, the staff attorney for CAIR Michigan, said Friday that the manager for the store on Michigan only learned about the incident Thursday though it occurred about three weeks ago.

Doukoure said she filed a complaint with the Michigan Civil Rights Department on the basis of religious discrimination on behalf of the couple.

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Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed