CAIR-MA Files Complaint Alleging Chicopee McDonald’s Intentionally Served Bacon to a Muslim Family
The Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations announced on June 1 that it has filed a public accommodations complaint against McDonald’s with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination on behalf of a Muslim woman who was intentionally served bacon in a plain fish sandwich.
According to the complaint, on June 29, 2021, a McDonald’s restaurant located in Chicopee “intentionally and maliciously discriminated against a Muslim woman and her two young children” by charging for bacon that was not ordered by the family and adding three to four times the amount normally provided.
The complainant, Ghadir Alahmar, is a permanent resident and an adult resident of Chicopee. She emigrated from Yemen to the United States in 2014. In public, she dresses in a long dress commonly worn by Muslim women, along with a hijab and Islamic headscarf, align with her Muslim beliefs.
In a written statement, Alahmar discussed how the allegedly discriminatory actions by McDonald’s employees made caused her children and herself emotional distress.
“McDonald’s made my children and me feel unwanted and worthless by intentionally stuffing a fish sandwich full of bacon for no other reason than to punish us for our faith and religious convictions,” Alahmar said. “My children now wonder if they are welcome in their own country. They ask me, ‘Do they hate us?’ How is a mother supposed to answer that question?”
“Anti-Muslim bias takes many forms,” said CAIR-MA Legal Director Barbara J. Dougan, who represents the family. “But you can’t go much lower than tampering with the food of a young child.”
The complaint indicates that two McDonald’s employees were at the counter when Alahmar entered the restaurant. Instead of greeting the customers, the employees had a discussion about who would take Alahmar’s order in front of her. One of the employees left claiming he was on break, and a young white female took Alahmar’s order.
The family told the employee they wanted fries, cookies, and a “plain fish sandwich with nothing on it.” Both Alahmar and her son emphasized that they wanted “nothing but fish.” The employee charged Alahmar for her order and an additional “ONLY 2 Half Strips Bacon,” which Alahmar was unaware of when she paid for her order. The employee then left the counter, and Alahmar never saw her again.
While Alahmar waited for her food for an estimated seven to 10 minutes, a woman with three children, who came into the restaurant after Alahmar, got their food in just a few minutes. Alahmar asked the young Hispanic male who took the other family’s order where her order was, the employee went into the food preparation area and never came back out. A Hispanic female employee came to the counter later to deliver Alahmar her food.
In a nearby school playground where the family planned to eat, Alahmar’s son opened his sandwich container and exclaimed, “It’s khinzir (pig)!”
The manager refunded to Alahmar’s husband the price of the fish sandwich and two half-strips of bacon when her husband went back to speak with the store manager in the evening.
According to the complaint, the manager acknowledged it was “highly unlikely” that an employee had pressed the “add bacon” button instead of the “plain” button by accident, because they are separate buttons on the McDonald’s cash register.
“It’s our position that McDonald’s employees knew Ms. Alahmar is Muslim by the clothing she wears, and stuffed that Filet-o-Fish full of bacon to offend, humiliate, and cause her distress because of her religion,” Dougan said.
Dougan stressed that religious discrimination in a public accommodation locations is not just morally inappropriate, but also illegal.
“We hope that McDonald’s will find these actions as appalling as we do, and take all needed measures to ensure that something like this never happens again at the Chicopee store or any other location,” Dougan said.
In the past few weeks, CAIR has responded to Islamophobic incidents in Michigan, New Jersey, Colorado, and Vermont.
Dougan said discrimination happens far more frequently than most people realize.
“We get 5 to 10 calls about public accommodations cases every year,” Dougan said. “But the person may choose not to go public, or not to go forward with legal action, which takes a lot of time and energy. I have enormous respect for clients like Ms. Alahmar who are willing to speak up, in an effort to change the way a store treats its customers.”
CAIR-MA expects McDonald’s to file its answer to its complaint with MCAD by the end of June.
The Chicopee McDonald’s store manager did not respond to DigBoston’s interview requests.
Artemis is a Taiwanese writer, activist, and entrepreneur. At the age of 16, she founded Taiwan’s largest student-based independent international news organization. She graduated with a Bachelor of Laws degree from Peking University and is now a journalism graduate student at Boston University. She hopes to achieve social justice with the power of communication.