Hawzah News Agency (Tennessee, US) - In the lawsuit filed Wednesday, attorneys for Fadumo Sardeye accused her managers and co-workers for harassing her for the religious accommodations she requested.
Those incidents listed in the federal complaint include initially denying her vacation request during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and demanding she show where in the Quran it says she could not touch pork products or alcohol.
"She lost her job simply because she was a Muslim who was born in Somalia," said Jerry Martin, an attorney with Barrett Johnston Martin & Garrison representing Sardeye.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Tennessee, also accuses Sardeye's managers of retaliating against her after she contacted Walmart's corporate office to report the discrimination. A corporate investigator reprimanded the management of the Knoxville store at 8445 Walbrook Drive.
Afterward, Sardeye faced scheduling issues, according to the lawsuit. She was repeatedly penalized for working the shifts her supervisor told her to report for, although they did not match the times listed in the store's computerized scheduling system, the suit said. Walmart fired Sardeye on Nov. 15, 2017, citing too many attendance issues.
Walmart did not immediately respond Thursday to the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee's request for comment.
Sardeye, 54, is suing Walmart for violating the federal Civil Rights Act. She is seeking an unspecified amount in damages, including back pay, lost compensation and job benefits.
Religious accommodations not an issue at Memphis store
Sardeye, who was born in Somalia and moved to the U.S. in the early 1990s, spent about 18 years working at Walmart stores in Tennessee.
The lawsuit describes Sardeye as a devout Muslim who wears a hijab, a religious head covering. She believes her religion prohibits her from consuming or handling pork products or alcohol and requires her to take off work to observe religious holidays such as Ramadan and Eid al-Adha.
She spent the vast majority of her tenure with the company working at a Memphis store whose management had no issue accommodating Sardeye's religious restrictions, the lawsuit states. Those included not scheduling her to work as a cashier or in the Memphis store's grocery department so she could avoid handling pork products and alcohol.
"Plaintiff was able to be a model employee for fifteen (15) years at Store 1561 while still practicing her religion and complying with its restrictions," the lawsuit states.
Transferring to the Knoxville store to be closer to family
In 2014, Sardeye moved to Knoxville in order to be closer to her daughters who live in the East Tennessee city. She transferred to the West Knoxville store, where a human resources employee assured Sardeye that the store could accommodate her religious restrictions, the lawsuit said.
But, in the spring of 2015, her request to take vacation days during Ramadan was initially denied, the lawsuit said. The next year, the store's manager told her she could not return to work until she provided textual proof from the Quran about being unable to touch pork products and alcohol.
Her colleagues complained that she did not have to stock shelves in the grocery department as they did, according to the lawsuit. She also faced complaints questioning why she could not act like her Iraqi Muslim coworkers, who did handle pork products and alcohol.
Sardeye's daughter helped her write a complaint to Walmart's corporate office. A corporate investigator issued a verbal reprimand to the West Knoxville store managers, who pledged to accommodate Sardeye going forward.
"After this intervention, Wal-Mart continued to treat Plaintiff differently than her colleagues. Notably, Wal-Mart reduced Plaintiff's hours of work and assigned her to work alone, with no support, more and more frequently," the lawsuit said.
In 2017, she took off work for Ramadan and was no longer on the schedule when she returned, the lawsuit said. Eventually, the scheduling system listed her shift as 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., but her supervisor told her to work 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. with the rest of her team.She was penalized for not working in accordance with the computerized scheduling system.
The store fired her on her day off
"She made complaints about how she was being treated in writing to Walmart's corporate office," Martin said. "Under the law, it's illegal to retaliate against an employee for invoking the rights under Title VII or questioning management for what you believe are discriminatory practices."
Sardeye, who does not have a high school diploma, was unable to find comparable work in Knoxville and was forced to move to Nashville to live with friends, the lawsuit said. She is currently enrolled in high school equivalency classes to improve her employment options.