Northville woman files civil rights complaint against Costco for discrimination, harassment

Kara Berg
The Detroit News

Livonia — A Northville woman who works at Costco has filed a state civil rights complaint against the corporation, alleging she was discriminated against, humiliated and harassed while working at two Livonia locations. 

Wafa Aziz, 44, has worked at Costco since November 2018. From the beginning of her time working at the Haggerty location in Livonia, her general manager showed visible signs of being prejudiced toward her, Aziz said. 

Her manager would ignore her when Aziz said good morning and made comments about keeping Aziz around for the minority numbers, she said. 

"They view me differently," Aziz said. "They see what I wear on the outside but they don't view me as a human being." 

Aziz wears a hijab, and she said her manager mocked the hijab, spread rumors about her and suggested Aziz couldn't hear while wearing her hijab and didn't understand her job duties, Aziz said. She also filed falsified documentation to discipline Aziz, depriving her of higher-paying opportunities and leading to a suspension, she said.

Aziz filed a complaint Thursday against Costco with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

"We're living in America, where we have laws that protect citizens from this type of discrimination, but it's still going on," Aziz said. "At a corporation like Costco, that should not be OK. ... They should be held accountable for that."

She still works at Costco after moving to a different store in October, but the discrimination continued. There, she said she was told "you do not belong here, you need to just leave."

Costco did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. The company has a policy that says its employees should be able to work in an environment free from discrimination. 

"Costco has a diverse workforce. Our mission is to foster a climate of inclusion to take advantage of that diversity," the company says on its website.

The job has severely impacted her health, she said. She was recently diagnosed with acute post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety and has had to start taking medication for the first time in her life. 

The harassment and discrimination might have been a good way to push Aziz out of her job, she said, but as a single mother of two children, she needed the money. 

"As a single mom, you can't just leave. ... This is your livelihood," Aziz said. "We shouldn't have to. No one should have to. No one should have to be forced out of their career."

Aziz wants a job in the optical department where she has the opportunity to make more money if she gets certified. 

"It's not easy to get up and leave," Aziz said. "My daughter has scoliosis. I have a son who also has health issues as well. I need the insurance and Costco pays well.

"Why would I and why should I (quit)? Why should I have to leave because someone is trying to push me out because I'm simply different than them? Because they think me wearing my hijab is going to obstruct me from performing my job duties?" 

Her manager fabricated reports that she was threatening her coworkers and they didn't feel safe working with her, Aziz said. When she asked for proof, they wouldn't give it to her. 

She begged her managers and corporate to investigate the discrimination, but instead of responding to her complaints, her managers demoted her and lied to force her out of her position, she said. Corporate delayed investigations and ignored her complaints, she said. 

"I let them know how it was taxing on my body," Aziz said. "I'm exhausted, I'm completely exhausted. I'm depleted of energy." 

After Aziz complained about the lack of hijab-wearing women at the warehouses — despite Metro Detroit having the largest Muslim population per capita in the country — they hired another woman, she said. 

"Nobody should ever endure this kind of work violence," said Mariam Charara, the executive director of the Arab American Civil Rights League. "It's unfortunate that when you speak your mind or when you try to ask for protection from your peers, from your higher ups, that you get disregarded. ... She's endured a constant hostile work environment at Costco under the hands of managers and employees." 

Aziz's attorney, Nabih Ayad, said when Costco doesn't enforce any serious disciplinary action, it only serves to normalize the prejudice. 

“Costco claims to have an anti-discrimination policy in place to protect its employees, but when it is exercised by an Arab Muslim woman, she is singled out, punished, and demoted for calling out her treatment at the hands of Costco management," Ayad said.

kberg@detroitnews.com