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Woman says she was fired from Whataburger for wearing Black Lives Matter mask

Woman says she was fired from Whataburger for wearing Black Lives Matter mask
© UPI Photo

A woman said she was fired from a Whataburger in Fort Worth, Texas, for wearing a Black Lives Matter mask in a discrimination complaint she filed Wednesday. 

Ma’Kiya Congious, 19, alleged in her complaint to the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division that she was let go from the company she worked for since May due to her race and the message on her mask, The Washington Post reported

The former employee said a white customer threatened to call Whataburger’s corporate office about her Black Lives Matter mask, which after a series of events led her managers to fire her and call the police on her. 

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Congious defended wearing the mask at work during a press conference held Wednesday with her lawyer Jason C.N. Smith.

“It’s not a political thing,” she said. “It’s just a statement that says ‘Black Lives Matter’ because we do matter.”

In her complaint, Congious said she wore the mask on July 31 without encountering an issue and returned on Aug. 3 with the mask when the white customer complained. A week later, she said managers told employees they had to wear masks with “no opinions whosoever on it,” sparking an argument between Congious and management, according to the Post.

Congious captured a video of her altercation with managers, obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, in which one supervisor said, “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.”

Whataburger provided branded masks for employees, but the complaint mentioned other employees at her workplace wore face coverings with the Gucci logo or the Mexican flag.  

During the argument, Congious asked how to request her two weeks’ notice. 

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“You want to put your two weeks notice in?” a manager said, according to the Star-Telegram. “We accept it, and you don’t have to come back at all.”

In her complaint, Congious said she had not yet decided to quit but was looking for information on how requesting her two weeks notice worked. But she claimed when she tried to clarify this with managers and stayed at the restaurant, the police were called on her, and she eventually left. 

In an August statement obtained by The Hill, Whataburger said Congious “voluntarily resigned due to a disagreement over our company uniform policy,” adding she was paid for the two weeks she was scheduled to work.

The statement cites that the restaurants’ mask policy doesn’t allow anything with “non-Whataburger messaging.”

“If we allow any non-Whataburger slogans as part of our uniforms, we have to allow all slogans,” the company said. “This could create tension and conflict among our employees and our customers. It is our job as a responsible brand to proactively keep our employees and customers safe."

The former Whataburger employee is calling on the public to boycott the restaurant for 90 days to see what the company does to show that Black Lives Matter, on Whataburger to allow Black Lives Matter masks and on the CEO to post on social media that “Black Lives Matter to Whataburger.” 

Congious also requested Whataburger give more implicit bias training and recognize Juneteenth beginning next year.

Smith, Congious’s attorney, said the Texas Workforce Commission has 180 days to look into her case and Whataburger has 30 days to respond to the complaint. If the state does not reach a conclusion, Congious has the right to sue, according to the Star-Telegram.

Congious’s case comes as several other workplaces are making decisions on whether Black Lives Matter masks or pins are permitted. Earlier this year, Starbucks initially banned employees from wearing things in support of the movement before it backtracked and developed a Black Lives Matter shirt as an option for workers.