Group says coworker objected to Muslim flight attendant

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

A Muslim-American group says an employee complaint prompted an ExpressJet Airlines decision to place on leave a Detroit-based flight attendant who objects to serving alcohol based on her religious beliefs as a Muslim.

A discrimination complaint filed Tuesday with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations says the airline initially agreed to 40-year-old Charee Stanley’s request for a religious accommodation after she raised the issue with her supervisor in June.

Her supervisor, Melanie Brown, directed Stanley to make arrangements with the other flight attendants on duty, so Stanley wouldn’t have to serve alcohol to passengers who ordered it, according to the complaint.

“Ms. Stanley followed that arrangement, and there has never been an issue,” said Lena Masri, senior staff attorney for CAIR-Michigan. “It’s a reasonable accommodation that has not caused any undue hardship for ExpressJet.”

But on Aug. 2, an airline employee filed a complaint against Stanley, claiming she was not fulfilling her duties as a flight attendant because of her refusal to serve alcohol, according to the EEOC complaint.

Masri said the other employee’s complaint had “Islamophobic” overtones, stating Stanley had a book with “foreign writings” and noting she wore an Islamic head scarf.

Three weeks later, ExpressJet wrote to Stanley to say it was revoking its religious accommodation and placing her on unpaid, administrative leave for a year, after which an employee may be terminated, according to the EEOC complaint.

“They did state that the reason they were placing her on administrative leave was because of her refusal to serve alcohol, and that they no longer considered it to be a reasonable request,” Masri said.

CAIR says denying Stanley’s request violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against workers based on religion, sex, color and national origin.

Stanley had worked for ExpressJet for three years and, before her request, she served alcohol to passengers. As a recent convert to Islam, “as soon as she learned that she is not only prohibited from consuming alcohol but from serving it, that is when she approached her supervisor,” Masri said.

Airline spokesman Jarek Beem said by email: “At ExpressJet, we embrace and respect the values of all of our team members. We are an equal opportunity employer with a long history of diversity in our workforce. As Ms. Stanley is an employee, we are not able to comment on her personnel matters.”

Stanley’s flights were based out of Detroit, and she was in the process of leasing an apartment in the Metro area when she was placed on leave, Masri said. Stanley has since moved back to the Cincinnati area, where her family lives.

ExpressJet, based in Atlanta, makes an average 2,200 daily flights, operating as American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express and serving 190 airports including several in Michigan.


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