Woman Sues Whataburger After Losing Job Over Black Lives Matter Mask

A former employee of a fast-food chain in Texas has filed a lawsuit claiming she was forced out of her job for wearing a Black Lives Matter face mask.

The suit alleges that Ma'Kiya Congious, a Black woman, was reprimanded for wearing the face covering during a shift at a Whataburger restaurant in the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex on August 4, 2020.

According to Congious, she had previously been allowed to wear the BLM mask "without consequence" while working at the burger chain.

She alleges that the issue arose after a customer, who was white, threatened to file a complaint over the face covering.

The lawsuit states that her manager told her she would need to wear a generic mask in the workplace in future, despite fellow employees being allowed to wear face coverings of their choosing—including, in one example, a mask featuring the Mexican flag.

Congious was able to record some of her conversation with the unnamed manager who, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, told her: "Whataburger wants you to wear masks that have no opinions whatsoever on them.

"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."

According to the Star-Telegram report, Congious then began to consider her options and asked her manager about the process for requesting two weeks' notice.

She claims the manager replied: "You want to put your two weeks' notice in? We accept it, and you don't have to come back at all."

When Congious asked for an explanation of this comment, the lawsuit alleges that her supervisor responded by calling the police.

Congious initially filed a discrimination complaint against Whataburger via the Texas Workforce Commission's Civil Rights Division. It issued her with a Right to Sue letter.

Congious says she only launched the lawsuit after Whataburger ignored her call for "5 steps of action," which she issued in September 2020, one month after the incident.

These steps included allowing employees to wear Black Lives Matter masks without fear of harassment and for the CEO to state that "Black Lives Matter to Whataburger" on the company's social media channels.

She also wanted the fast-food chain to introduce implicit bias training for current managers and new hires, and for the company to mark Juneteenth in its restaurants.

When Whataburger failed to take any of the actions demanded by Congious, she filed her suit.

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"Whataburger's actions send the message that they don't think Black Lives Matter," she said in a statement.

"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?"

Congious is being represented by Fort Worth attorney Jason C.N. Smith.

"It is against the law for Whataburger to discriminate against employees because of their race and color in the terms and conditions of employment," Smith said.

"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."

In a statement issued to the Star-Telegram after the incident, Whataburger said the company had accepted Congious' resignation and paid her for her two weeks of scheduled work.

"Whataburger supports racial equality," it told the news provider. "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."

Newsweek has contacted the fast-food chain for further comment.

Whataburger, a Texas-based chain established in 1950, has more than 780 restaurants in 10 states. WHATABURGER