Complaint: Muslim worker fired over request to move break

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A civil rights group has filed a federal complaint on behalf of a Michigan Muslim woman who alleges she was forced to leave her job for requesting religious accommodations.

Shqipe Zeqiri, a former janitor with GDI Integrated Facility Services Inc., worked at a building in Dearborn Heights. On May 7, she sought to move her lunch break to accommodate fasting for Ramadan, according to the complaint filed Thursday with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

During the holy month, Muslims around the world are required to abstain from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset. 

A supervisor denied the request and told Zeqiri to break her fast after finishing work at 1 a.m., according to the commission filing.

When the 33-year-old tried to talk to the supervisor, “he began to berate and belittle her and her religion, telling her how stupid he thought her religion was for requiring her to fast,” the document stated. “He also became irate and began to scream at her in front of individuals in the building who were both employed by respondent, and also those who were not employed by respondent, but worked within the office space that Zeqiri was set to clean.”

The next day, the supervisor gave her a termination letter that the Albanian woman claims she was pressured to sign despite being unable to read English, the complaint said.

She later notified upper management that she had been denied a religious accommodation and then terminated, but they “ignored all of Zeqiri’s complaints and took no action to investigate her claims of discrimination until she filed a grievance to her local union,” according to the filing.

“No one should be forced to choose between their religion and providing for their family,” said Amy Doukoure, a staff attorney with the Michigan chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, which filed the complaint.

“It is incumbent upon employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees' sincerely held religious beliefs. When employers allow their personal biases to deter their legal obligations, individuals and organizations must step in and protect workers' rights.”

In a statement Friday, representatives for GDI Integrated Facility Services Inc. did not directly address the allegations but said the company "strives to provide a comfortable and mutually beneficial work environment for all our valued team members. Diversity in all areas has been the cornerstone of our success and we welcome and embrace all of our team members' unique qualities, characteristics and values."

GDI offers several avenues for workers to report issues, including an ethics reporting platform through an independent party, according to the statement.

"We respect and uphold each individual’s right to file an agency charge/claim should they feel they need additional support," GDI said. "The First Amendment allows individuals to express their opinions without censorship or restraint. However, it does not require anyone to verify all of the facts prior to making allegations. ...It is extremely unfortunate that GDI’s reputation has been called into question prior to all of the facts being reviewed and verified."