Mohammed Zakaria Memon just wanted to wash up. To just splash a little water over his face, hands, head and feet before a quick prayer five times a day in accordance with his Muslim religion.
But no. That was too much for the folks at Wal-Mart and Deloitte Consulting. Instead, they canned Memon.
That's according to a lawsuit Memon recently filed against his former employer, Deloitte, and his client, Wal-Mart, in Houston federal court. Memon, a 59-year-old Pakistani-American from Fort Bend who had a $140,000 a year job as a Lead Consultant, claims his civil rights were violated when he was fired for exercising his religious right to pray and clean himself beforehand in a ritual known as "Wazu."
"It's very unfortunate that this happened," Memon's lawyer, Ali Ahmed, tells Hair Balls.
According to the lawsuit, Deloitte assigned Memon to a consulting project at Wal-Mart's corporate office in Bentonville, Arkansas in November 2007. Memon claims he would wash up in the restroom before going to pray in an area designated by Wal-Mart, such as the parking lot or in a hallway. The whole process took about five minutes or so.
After a few days, the lawsuit states, Wal-Mart employees began to get upset with Memon for using the bathroom to sprinkle water on himself and Memon was told not to perform the "Wazu." Trying to come up with a fix, Memon's boss at Deloitte suggested that Memon pray at the hotel. However, this was not practical because it meant driving more than half an hour for each prayer instead of just taking a short five-minute break.
It didn't take long until Memon was then taken off the Wal-Mart project. He claims that a Deloitte project manager told him that other colleagues would also be removed from the job, but in the end he was the only one.
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According to the lawsuit, the project manager told Memon that, "Americans do not deal with Islamic practices and clients particularly in the South do not understand these religious practices." The manager also allegedly said that Memon "is putting himself at risk" by practicing his religion. Deloitte then fired Memon, citing "poor performance," the lawsuit states.
"It is unlikely that Mr. Memon, who had only good reviews after each [project] ... could have suddenly failed in his performance just days after his religious practices did not sit well with the Wal-Mart employees in Arkansas," Ahmed wrote in the complaint. "Unjustifiably and with prejudicial motive, letting go of a high level consultant with satisfactory performance ... is not only illegal but also despicable. Neither Wal-Mart nor Deloitte Consulting suffered any undue hardship, nor did Mr. Memon's prayer disrupt Wal-Mart's or his employer's business operations."
Ahmed says that Memon has not been able to find work since being fired and is still unemployed.
Update: Wal-Mart has responded to our request for comment. "Respect for the individual is one of our company's core values," says Wal-Mart spokeswoman Michelle Bradford. "We recognize that our business depends on a diverse workforce and customer base and we think it's important to accept and embrace each other's differences."