A black Whataburger employee in Fort Worth, Texas alleges that she was fired for wearing a face mask in support of Black Lives Matter. Ma’Kiya Congious says that she received compliments from some customers but a white customer complained. That customer threatened to call the corporate office with her complaint. Congious’ supervisor told her to replace the mask with an approved one.
Pretty simple, right? Companies have dress codes, especially when all the employees wear uniforms. The point is that they all dress alike, identifying themselves as employees. The supervisor said that her mask carried a political message, which is not allowed. Congious says that no, it isn’t a political message but a message of support. “It’s not a political thing,” Congious said. “It’s just a statement that says, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ because we do matter.”
She claims she was fired for refusing to put on a different mask and the police were called when she refused to leave the premises.
“I asked for them to provide me details on why my mask was inappropriate. It’s a solid color. It doesn’t have any gang-related anything on it,” she told KDFW’s Lyannane Nguyen. “I asked for them to explain it to me. They couldn’t explain it to me.”
During the dispute with her supervisor, Congious asked how to request her two-week’s notice, according to Fort Worth Star Telegram’s Brian Lopez.
“You want to put your two weeks notice in?” a supervisor said. “We accept it, and you don’t have to come back at all.”
That exchange makes it look like the company accepted her resignation, which is different than outright firing her. I would imagine she asked about putting in her notice because how she left the company affects if she qualifies for unemployment benefits until she finds other employment. The supervisor accepted her resignation.
All of this happened on August 3. Wednesday the 19-year-old announced she filed a discrimination complaint with the State of Texas. She has a lawyer and is claiming she was confused by her supervisor’s acceptance of her two weeks’ notice. She said she was just asking about the process and had not decided to leave her job. Because she continued to ask her supervisor about it, she says the police were called.
In the complaint, Congious said she hadn’t made up her mind about putting in her two weeks’ notice and was only asking abut her options. Confused by the manager’s response, Congious kept pressing about what it meant, after which her managers called the police on her, she said. Congious then left the Whataburger.
In a press conference on Wednesday, the ex-employee said the situation made her feel discriminated against and she wants her story to create change for Black people in the workforce. For her, Black Lives Matter is a statement and there’s no political affiliation.
“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,” Congious said.
Whataburger says the woman will be paid for two weeks she was scheduled to work. The police were called because she made threats to management.
“Whataburger supports racial equality,” the statement read. “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.”
Her lawyer is going with a discrimination case. He and Congious see it as a racial thing, not a matter of abiding by the dress code.
Smith, Congious’ lawyer, said “Federal and state law 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.”
There is a hiccup here, though, for Whataburger. The company’s mask policy doesn’t specifically address political statements. It simply reads “plain or work-appropriate patterned bandanas or other cloth material may be used to cover your nose and mouth.” Congious can quibble over the meaning of “work-appropriate”, I suppose. The face masks I see employees wearing at the Whataburger I go to is a simple orange face mask with the Whataburger logo on it. Obviously, the company makes available masks that coordinate with the uniforms.
The question is whether or not her supervisor acted because a white customer spoke up against the mask. Congious was working and already wearing the mask. She says she first wore the mask on July 31 and management didn’t say anything about it. The Whataburger is in a historically black part of town, according to reports. When the customer complained the following Monday, that is when the supervisor sat her down, along with other employees, and explained the mask policy. Her complaint says other employees have worn masks with a Gucci logo or the Mexican flag.
“Whataburger wants you to wear a mask that has no opinions whatsoever on them,” the manager said in a video recording taken by Congious. “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.”
The complaint lists five steps of action Whataburger and the public need to take.
The public should boycott Whataburger for 90 days to see what actions the company takes to show that “Black Lives Matter.”
The company should allow Black Lives Matter masks.
The CEO should say “Black Lives Matter to Whataburger” on social media.
The company should provide more implicit bias training.
The company should celebrate Juneteenth starting next year.
The boycott is ridiculous and bullying a company into saying words on social media is cringe-worthy. Better training is doable, I suspect, and it wouldn’t be unusual for the company to celebrate Juneteenth, especially given the Texas history with that date. As the company statement says, though, if non-Whataburger slogans are part of the uniform, all slogans would have to be allowed. Dress codes are in place for a reason. They maintain peace in the workplace and, more importantly, don’t offend customers. The young woman may not think Black Lives Matter is a political statement but in today’s atmosphere, it is. It is a political movement, not just a warm and fuzzy statement. It doesn’t look like her own skin color had anything to do with this. It was the message on her mask.