Frank Mahoney Burroughs.
Federal officials claim AutoZone illegally fired an Everett worker who converted to Sikhism - and did little to stop supervisors and customers from calling the man “bin Laden” and “terrorist” once he began wearing a turban.
The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission yesterday sued Memphis-based AutoZone on behalf of Frank Mahoney Burroughs, a salesman allegedly fired after some three years working at the chain’s Everett store.
“AutoZone discriminated against Burroughs by failing to reasonably accommodate his religious practices, by subjecting him to a religion-based hostile work environment and by terminating him because of his religion,” the EEOC wrote in its lawsuit.
AutoZone did not return calls seeking comment.
Authorities claim Burroughs’ troubles began when he converted in 2009 to Sikhism, a religion that requires males to grow beards and wear turbans.
Sikh men say this look has made them targets since Sept. 11, 2001, even though their religion isn’t related to Islam.
The EEOC claimed in court papers that Burroughs’ bosses refused to let him work the first time he appeared in Sikh garb.
The company later let him return, but supervisors allegedly called Burroughs “Sikhi,” “Punjabi King” and “terrorist” because of his appearance. Bosses also rarely intervened when customers made “terrorist jokes” or called the man “bin Laden,” the EEOC said.
Ultimately, AutoZone allegedly ordered Burroughs to comply with company dress codes or provide documentation justifying a religious exemption - then fired the man when he gave up and stopped coming to work. “I was discarded like a piece of trash,” the 23-year-old said in a statement issued by the Sikh Coalition, a New York-based group that’s taken up his cause.
The EEOC is seeking unspecified back pay, pain-and-suffering compensation and punitive damages for Burroughs.
It also wants an injunction banning AutoZone from “discriminating on the basis of religion (or) refusing to accommodate the religious beliefs of employees when (doing so) does not pose an undue hardship.”