Whataburger is Texas' favorite burger chain, offering delicious burgers, sides and shakes at affordable prices. However, a Whataburger in Fort Worth, Texas is in the news for more than its tasty food. A former Whataburger employee has filed a lawsuit against the restaurant after she was fired for wearing a Black Lives Matter mask.
Last August, a few months into the pandemic when the BLM protests were at their peak, Ma'Kiya Congious was working at a Whataburger restaurant in Fort Worth. The former employee was serving a white customer one day when she received a complaint about her face mask.
A customer in the drive-thru asked Congious for the customer service phone number to complain about the BLM mask that Congious was wearing. The former employee told her supervisor and district manager about the incident, who told her to take off the mask.
In an interview about the incident, Congious said, "Whataburger's actions send the message that they don't think Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter' is just a statement of fact after years and years of blacks being treated like they didn't matter in this country. It's sad that this corporation is threatened by that simple statement. Would you feel safe working at a place that had the attitude that your life didn't matter?"
Whataburger Fires Over Mask
Congious' general manager then told her that she had to wear an approved mask that was within the uniform's guidelines. However, Congious was having none of it, explaining "I'm not going to be quiet. Not for Whataburger. Not for anybody."
Ma'Kiya Congious then went to her manager to ask about the procedure for her two weeks' notice, to which the manager responded with "You want to put your two weeks notice in? We accept it and you don't have to come back at all."
Congious says that she hadn't made up her mind about putting in her two weeks' notice and only wanted to know her options. When she pressed the managers further, they called the police. The police arrived, and Congious told them that she just wanted the corporate number for Whataburger to file a complaint. She then left the restaurant.
In September 2020, Congious filed a discrimination complaint against Whataburger with the Texas Workforce Commission-Civil Rights Division. They issued her a Right to Sue Letter. As her attorney Jason C.N. Smith explained,
"Whataburger singled out a Black employee for wearing a 'Black Lives Matter' mask while allowing other non-Black employees to wear all sorts of masks that had nothing to do with burgers and fries," he said. "Other employees throughout the company were allowed to wear the mask of their choosing such as a Mexican flag mask. I mean, they called the police on a 19-year-old mom in response to her request for an explanation."
Lawsuit for Racial Discrimination
Now, more than a year later, Congious is filing a lawsuit against Whataburger in Dallas County District Court, the location of the fast food chain's regional office. Her lawsuit is based on racial discrimination, citing that other employees were allowed to wear masks that weren't approved as part of the uniform.
This isn't the first time Whataburger has been called out for racial discrimination. Also in 2020, a Whataburger location in Tallahassee, Florida had a lawsuit filed against it by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC.
Reportedly, the general manager told her hiring manager to "hire white, and not black, applicants for employment." When called out for these instructions, she said that it was a "business decision," to choose white applicants, as she was only trying to "reflect the customer base where we do business."
Now, Whataburger Restaurants LLC is paying $180,000 to settle the harassment and constructive discharge lawsuit.
As for Congious, she has recently started working at a sandwich shop, where she's allowed to wear her BLM mask with no complaints. In reference to the incident that happened last year, she said "Our world last year was really going through a lot with racial things going on. I didn't see anything wrong with it. I'm a Black African American. My life does matter and so do other lives and so does my son."
Whataburger's response to the lawsuit is that it supports racial equality and was simply enforcing its uniform policy.