It's hard to know what kind of workplace behavior is acceptable at KBR these days.
On the one hand, if you believe the many lawsuits filed against the nation-builder, it's not unheard of for the men stationed in Iraq to verbally and sexually abuse their women colleagues, even rape one on occasion. There are alleged incidents of prostitution and human trafficking at a Thai brothel, where KBR managers encourage their workers to visit, and in some cases possibly even own the brothel. There are even instances where KBR workers supposedly exposed military personnel to contaminated food, contaminated water and improperly incinerated human remains. Yes, one man claims he saw a wild dog running around base one day with a man's arm in its mouth.
So it should have hardly come as a shock to Karen Tounkara when she was fired from her contract gig at one of KBR's Houston facilities for wearing a headscarf. After all, a company must have its standards.
According to a lawsuit recently filed against KBR in Houston federal court, Tounkara, a Muslim, claims she was discriminated against because of her religion when she was prohibited from wearing her headscarf, or hijab, in observance of her faith while she worked.
Tounkara's attorney, Darius Porter, tells Hair Balls that his client was contracted through a nursing agency to help prep KBR workers heading to Iraq. When Tounkara showed up to her first day of work in December, she was told she could not wear her headscarf. "Mind you," says Porter, "this was December and there were other nurses there who had on hats and skull caps because of the cold weather. They weren't required to do anything."
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Later that night, says Porter, the staffing agency told Tounkara she was not welcome back at KBR because of a KBR policy stating that no employee can wear a head-covering at work. When Tounkara explained that she was a Muslim and asked if an accommodation could be made, says Porter, KBR countered by saying Tounkara could wear her headscarf up until entering the gates of KBR and put it back on once she had left.
"That is not necessarily a reasonable accommodation," says Porter, "so we filed the petition."
Hair Balls contacted KBR to ask whether the company has a no-hats-and-scarves policy, but have not yet heard back.
The lawsuit states that Tounkara should be protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against workers based on religion.