No gas for you!

Author: Nezar Hamze, Executive Director, Council on American Islamic Relations in South Florida
Published On: Feb 03 2012 03:31:17 PM EST   Updated On: Feb 03 2012 03:38:49 PM EST
Nezar Hamze
BOCA RATON, Fla. -

On October 28th, 2011 Mrs. La-Fleur Mohamed pulled into the Chevron gas station located at 19345 State Road 7 in Boca Raton, Florida around 4pm. She entered the Chevron and handed the gas station attendant $20 for pump number one.

The Chevron employee looked at Ms. Mohamed with a disgusted look and said, “You can’t come in here dressed like that."

Mrs. Mohamed replied, “This is my religious right."

The attendant responded, “I need to see your face."

Ms. Mohamed said,” You don’t need to see my face, please just give me $20 on pump one."

The attendant threw the money back at her and told her not to come back. Mrs. Mohamed exited the Chevron in tears and called 911. The Sheriff responded to the call and confirmed that the attendant would not serve Mrs. Mohamed, because of her religious clothing.

Chevron released multiple statements to the media explaining that the employee did not intentionally discriminate based on Mrs. Mohamed’s religion; rather the incident was a misunderstanding about an internal communication regarding heightened security around Halloween.  Considering all the facts of this incident, the heightened security narrative isn’t realistic. Sounds like a legal maneuver more than a reasonable explanation. No worries though, Chevron isn’t the only company that used security issues to explain away discrimination.

Let’s rewind to 1959 and analyze similar situations that happened around the country to Black Americans. In the state of Tennessee gas stations were refusing to sell gas to Blacks. Often times the narrative of security issues were used to deny Blacks the ability to purchase gas, however, when analyzed, the core of the refusal was based on nothing but pure bigotry. Keep in mind there was nothing illegal about this practice at the time, at least according to the law of the land anyway. The NAACP responded and started a boycott of Gulf, Texaco and other gas retailers until they agreed to sell gas to Blacks. The campaign was successful.

Fast forward a couple of years, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 became the law of the land. Title II of this act outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, gas stations and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce. Fast forward to 1992, the State of Florida passed legislation called the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992. This act also outlaws discrimination in places of public accommodation.

Now that we have laws to protect individuals against this type of discrimination, Chevron can say whatever they want, the facts don’t change. She was denied service because of her religion. Both Federal and State Laws provide clear remedies for those who are victim to these acts of discrimination. 

Unfortunately Mrs. Mohamed is not alone in dealing with this type of discrimination in South Florida. CAIR Florida has handled two other public accommodation cases within the last year. Without disclosing the specifics, both involved retailers denying service to Muslim woman dressed in their religious clothing. Both of the retailers used the narrative of security reasons, one of them claimed a misunderstanding of an internal communication. Obviously, the companies were not successful and ultimately took full responsibility for their employee’s actions.

Here are some important facts that must be understood. Corporations are not human beings, they employ people and the corporations are responsible for their actions. Most companies have policy regarding diversity and offer some sort of training regarding discrimination and the importance of inclusion.  Unfortunately human nature is not so black and white. People have biases and they sometimes materialize in the form of discriminatory acts. When the act of discrimination crosses the line and violates the law, the corporations are held to account. This is how civilized society operates and just one of the many great balances we have in the United States.

Hopefully retailers will learn a valuable lesson from this incident and implement a more comprehensive training for their employees. As our society becomes more diverse, so should the training that companies implement for their employees.

Mrs. Mohamed is a proud American and loves this country. I applaud her for having the courage to take a public stand and fight for her rights.