Farmington restaurant accused of religious discrimination
Blue Moon Diner targeted in federal complaint
FARMINGTON — A Farmington restaurant has been accused by a federal agency of religious discrimination against a former employee and violating federal law by failing to accommodate her religious beliefs.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against the Blue Moon Diner Inc. Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico.
The agency alleges the Blue Moon Diner failed to accommodate former employee Samantha Bandy's religious beliefs and practices of wearing a hijab or head scarf and that she was "constructively discharged" by making her choose between the restaurant's requirements and her religious practices, according to a copy of the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of damages for Bandy and asks that practices and policies be instituted at the diner to prevent religious discrimination in the workplace, according to a EEOC press release.
The Blue Moon Diner's owners, Mike and Christi Ulrich, responded to the allegations in a statement provided to The Daily Times. The couple also owns Porter's Restaurant and Smokehouse.
The Ulriches say Bandy was never prohibited from wearing the headscarf she was wearing when she was hired, and she was not terminated from employment.
"We long ago made a commitment to moral and ethical leadership through inclusion," they say in the statement. "We believe the cornerstone to our success in Farmington is due to the great employees we hire without regard to their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, or other protected characteristics."
The lawsuit follows an investigation launched by the EEOC after Bandy filed a claim with the agency alleging the Blue Moon Diner violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of color, national origin, race, sex and religion.
Mike Ulrich is accused of telling Bandy she needed to take off her hijab and wear a small bandanna during her shift and that he did not want her to report to work again while wearing the long head scarf, according to the lawsuit.
He also allegedly told Bandy the head scarf was "too Muslim for Farmington" during an April 26, 2016, conversation.
Bandy was hired following an April 1, 2016, interview with Ulrich, according to the lawsuit. Bandy claims she never agreed to wear a bandanna for work as a hostess/cashier.
Ulrich allegedly "verbally counseled" her at least four times about the head scarf length and "openly displayed his concern with her hijab," the lawsuit states.
During each verbal counseling, Ulrich is accused of telling Bandy to wear a bandanna at work instead of her hijab.
"In one of Mike Ulrich’s meetings with Samantha Bandy about her head scarf, he repeated a co-worker’s story about a customer who had loudly warned her granddaughter to watch out for people dressed like Bandy because they were possible terrorists and bomb-throwers," the lawsuit claims.
Bandy felt compelled to resign after the April 26 meeting because she claimed she had to wear a head covering that conflicted with her religious beliefs and did not return to work at the Blue Moon Diner, according to the lawsuit.
The EEOC issued a letter of determination to the Blue Moon Diner on Feb. 9, to enter into "informal methods of conciliation" after finding reasonable cause that Title VII had been violated.
A notice of failure of conciliation was issued April 9 to the restaurant after the EEOC was unable to secured an "acceptable conciliation agreement," according to the lawsuit.
Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.