A 19-year-old Black woman is calling for the public to boycott Whataburger after she filed a discrimination complaint against the company this week, claiming the company forced her out of her job last month because she wore a “Black Lives Matter” mask.
Ma’Kiya Congious, 19, was working at an East Fort Worth, Texas, location of the popular regional chain on Aug. 4 when a white customer complained about her face mask, which bore the phrase “Black Lives Matter” along with a fist, reports The Washington Post. It wasn’t the first time Congious, who had been employed at the restaurant since May, had worn the mask. On a prior shift, several customers from the historically Black neighborhood complimented her on the mask. Congious, who spoke to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, said the chain’s district manager even greeted her in the parking lot while she was wearing the mask, and said nothing of it.
But after the white customer threatened to call Whataburger’s corporate office about her BLM mask, the restaurant manager, alongside two higher-ranking district managers, told her the mask violated the company’s policy.
“Whataburger wants you to wear a mask that has no opinions whatsoever on them,” the manager said in a video recording taken by Congious and shared with the Star-Telegram. “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.”
Congious and another person on the recording pushed back on “Black Lives Matter” being viewed as an opinion, particularly in the context of the neighborhood they were in.
On a recording of the interaction, Congious asks if she can put in her two-weeks notice.
“You know what, we accept it, and you don’t have to come back at all,” the manager responds.
When Congious clarified that she still wanted to work the next two weeks, two managers pushed back.
“We’re saying you don’t have to [work the two weeks]. We’re taking it as of today. Yeah, you’re done and I appreciate you doing that, so thank you,” said the manager, who then told Congious to clock out.
In her complaint, Congious said she was just trying to get clarification on how to file her notice. But when she tried to stay and explain this to the managers, they called the police on her.
Congious’ complaint calls for people to boycott Whataburger for 90 days to push the company to commit to “Black Lives Matter.” Congious also wants the company to allow Black Lives Matter masks, provide more implicit bias training, and begin celebrating Juneteenth. The complaint additionally demands CEO Preston Atkinson to declare “Black Lives Matter to Whataburger” on social media.
Whataburger has pushed back against some of Congious’ claims, saying that she “voluntarily resigned due to a disagreement over our company uniform policy,” according to a company statement obtained by The Hill. It also claimed she was paid for the two weeks she was scheduled to work.
The fast-food chain is also standing by its dress code, saying their policy doesn’t allow any “non-Whataburger slogans” because then it would “have to allow all slogans.”
“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,” Whataburger said in a statement to KDFW on Wednesday.
The company is certainly not the first to confront or discipline employees about wearing Black Lives Matter apparel. Similar incidents have happened at Costco and Whole Foods, where employees sued to be able to wear Black Lives Matter facemasks. As the Post observes, this has also happened in smaller stores, and many of the allegations share common themes: targeting employees for BLM apparel “while turning a blind eye to gear supporting other causes, from sports teams to LGBTQ rights.”
But companies have also chosen to explicitly support Black Lives Matter rhetoric. Starbucks reversed an initial decision to ban BLM apparel in June, and Delta recently went viral for its decision to side with a Black female passenger during a dispute with a white woman who antagonized her over her opinions on policing. The airline company upgraded the Black woman’s seat and gifted her with a “Black Lives Matter” Delta pin.
As the Star-Telegram reports, Whataburger’s mask policy actually makes no mention of statements, political or otherwise, and doesn’t explicitly ban them. Congious’ complaint also notes that other employees wore face masks with the Mexican flag and the Gucci logo without any comment.
Regarding face-coverings, Whataburger’s policy advised, “plain or work-appropriate patterned bandanas or other cloth material may be used to cover your nose and mouth.”
According to Congious’ attorney, her complaint has 180 days to be reviewed by the Texas Workforce Commission, and Whataburger has 30 days to respond to the filing. If the state doesn’t reach a decision about the case, Congious has the right to sue her former employer.