Ma’Kiya Congious, a former employee at a Whataburger in Fort Worth, Texas, has filed a discrimination complaint against the company, alleging she lost her job because she wore a Black Lives Matter mask to work.
According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the incident took place on Aug. 4. Congious was at work when, she says, a white woman complained about her Black Lives Matter mask.
Congious notes that she had worn the mask before but had not experienced any issues until that day. In fact, she says, the district manager saw her in the parking lot when he arrived and did not say anything to her about the mask.
This changed when the customer in question said she was going to call the restaurant’s corporate office to complain. According to the report, Congious was told the mask was inappropriate and that she could no longer wear it at work.
“Whataburger wants you to wear masks that have no opinions whatsoever on them,” the manager is heard saying in a recording that Congious made. “You’re entitled to your personal opinions—that’s fine. But at Whataburger we don’t want to portray them, because some people may be offended. This is a big business…. Whataburger doesn’t want to get into anything political, because we’re just hamburgers and fries.”
Congious, who said in her complaint that she was simply considering her options, asked the manager how she could request two weeks’ notice.
The manager apparently wouldn’t grant her that.
“You want to put your two weeks’ notice in? We accept it, and you don’t have to come back at all,” the manager said.
Ultimately, the restaurant’s management called the police when Congious asked repeatedly what their response to her question meant.
On Wednesday, Congious spoke about her case at a press conference, saying she wants to create change. In her complaint, she calls on Whataburger to allow Black Lives Matter masks; challenges the CEO to say “Black Lives Matter to Whataburger” on social media; and demands that the company provide more implicit bias training, among other initiatives.
“It’s not a political thing,” Congious says about her mask. “It’s just a statement that says ‘Black Lives Matter,’ because we do matter.”
“I do have a 5-month-old baby, and as he comes up in the world, I don’t want him to experience anything like this at all,” she adds.
Whataburger released a statement saying that an employee “voluntarily resigned due to a disagreement over our company uniform policy.”
A statement provided to ESSENCE notes that the company accepted said resignation and paid Congious for the upcoming two weeks she was scheduled to work.
“Whataburger supports racial equality,” the company said in a previous statement to the Star-Telegram. “This is simply a matter of enforcing our uniform policy. Whataburger employees are provided company-issued masks that comply with our policy and adhere to CDC and local government guidance.”
According to the Star-Telegram, the company policy, which doesn’t mention political statements, only mandates “plain or work-appropriate patterned bandanas or other cloth material.”
“Federal and state laws make it illegal to discriminate against an employee in the terms and conditions of their employment because of their race and color. We believe that’s what the evidence will show Whataburger did when they mistreated Ma’Kiya for wearing a ‘Black Lives Matter’ mask,” Congious’ lawyer, Jason Smith, says.