I have long written of discrimination, abuse and xenophobia as suffered by others; from Blacks in Libya to Muslims in the United States of America. But nothing could prepare me for this piece, one which will attempt to humbly relay what little information I am permitted to discuss, covering a lawsuit against the restaurant chain known as the International House of Pancakes (IHOP).
After my father, Hussein ‘Joseph’ Chamseddine, lead plaintiff in the discrimination suit against IHOP, spoke at a press conference on April 18, both local and international media networks were engrossed with the case; from Good Morning America, The Daily Mail (UK), The Huffington Post, CBS to FOX, NBC and the New York Post.
My father had worked for IHOP some 12 years; he began as an assistant manager working tiring night-shifts, moving up along the ladder towards his final position as a district manager overseeing four stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, even being asked by IHOP to make two trips to Ohio in order to train IHOP managers in that district.
I recall trips my younger siblings and I would make with my father, assisting him with lifting heavy boxes, files et al. He would take it upon himself to stay up late in the evening so he may resolve all assigned work, and often those unassigned, beyond even satisfactory achievement. The walls of our home are decorated with awards and certificates he has received from IHOP: Best Manager, Best Sales, Certificate of “above and beyond achievement” etc.
Despite my father’s commendable history at IHOP he is one of four men who were fired for being Arab and Muslim in 2010, nearly two year ago.
My father, lead plaintiff Hussein Chamseddine, maintains that Glendale, Calif.-based IHOP and Coppell-based Anthraper Investments wrongfully fired him and three other longtime employees – Rami Saleh, Brandon Adam and Chekri Bakro – in a span of nearly 10 months and replaced them with non-Arab, non-Muslim employees, despite all four men having repeatedly received good performance reviews and having suffered discriminatory harassment at work.
One of many examples includes receiving emails every year on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks warning them to ‘lay low’ in their restaurants on those days.
After my father was replaced, it was confirmed by eyewitnesses that during a meeting his replacement, a new district manager, said, “Arab men treat women poorly and with disrespect, we’re going to let these people go and have new faces coming in.” By the end of the year all four Muslim, Arab managers were fired.
All four men filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the EEOC), the agency of the United States Government that enforces the federal employment discrimination laws, and an investigation completed in January found “reasonable cause to believe that… Arabs were discriminatorily harassed and discharged based on… national origin.” The men are seeking damages for employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the Texas Labor Code.
Many questions have arisen about the case, some well-intentioned and a variety of others laced with derogatory jabs at Islam and Arab men. The most persistent inquiry is in relation to harassment the men faced and why they decided to remain working at IHOP until their respective terminations. The simplest response is a question: where else could they go, at their respective ages, with families to take care of?
My father is 52 years of age and has worked his whole life in pursuit of a better life for his family; from late-night shifts where he would be left to kissing us goodnight before our bedtimes to busy early morning runs before we had woken. Due to his age and “over-qualification” he has been unable to since attain a job. Also he suffers daily from severe back pain, prompted by spinal disc deterioration, which therein causes him to be unable to stand for long periods of time without wincing in pain.
I have never told my father, for fear of coming across over-sentimental, but I am proud of him. I would not be the woman I am today if it were not for my dignified father, who remains one of the most selfless men in my life. Despite having nothing, financially, he would give you the shirt off his back. This case has caused tremendous discomfort for my parents and when it was brought to my attention that a suit would be filed against IHOP I knew there would be unashamed backlash, especially since the federal suit highlighted discriminated based on their faith and national origin. It is not easy to be Muslim, Arab and American, not even in the land which is propagated as being a “melting pot” and one which is accepting of the “tired and poor, yearning to breathe free.” I could not prepare my family for the venomous attacks on my father but have warned them not to read comments posted on any articles, as they have been saturated with xenophobic and bigoted slurs against us.
As the only breadwinner my father was made to bear much, despite being unable to, and yet now he still he manages to push his 5 girls, myself being the eldest, towards their own goals. He continues to remind us that though we may be unable to provide that he will find a way. My two younger siblings are currently attending University and after the Pell Grant was slashed they were left to pay some $800 out of pocket so, without our knowledge, my parents used money meant to go towards our mortgage in order to pay for their semester. This is selflessness beyond all doubt.
Though the case highlights perverse discrimination against Muslims and Arabs in the workplace it is not simply a “Muslim issue” but a human issue. All of these men are fathers and husbands and though they have been financially broken as a result of what transpired they are not spiritually ruined. Suffering is a part of the human condition, it touches us all, but the constant echo heard within our household is that ‘we shall endure’; as noted by Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran, “out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls”, in this case – my father.
(Cross posted on Roqayah Chamseddine’s blog The Frustrated Arab)