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When discrimination hits home (IHOP fired my dad for being Arab and Muslim)

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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 fatherlead 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)

Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Lebanese-American writer based in Sydney. She writes the Sharp Edges column at Shadowproof and politics at Paste Magazine. She tweets at @roqchams.

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6 Responses

  1. annie on April 22, 2012, 12:53 pm

    i had never heard of this before. i hope they win this and i hope they win big, big damages. enough to send a warning to any other franchise who tries pulling this again. this video is getting some traction, as it should.

    give your dad a huge shout out of support from me. i am sorry this is so close to home, well..that’s an understatement. it must be a very stressful process for your family. so sorry roqayah.

  2. DICKERSON3870 on April 22, 2012, 1:26 pm

    RE: “…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.” ~ Chamseddine

    MY SNARK: The new district manager sounds like a really good “Christian”! That’s why I no longer consider myself to be one of today’s so-called “Christians”. Frankly, many of the Muslims and Jews in America seem more like what I once understood as being Christian than do today’s so-called “Christians”.

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  3. Walid on April 22, 2012, 4:44 pm

    With what Roqayah is describing of her Dad’s life and work and that of his 3 fellow workers, I know that in the end, he and the others will win.

    • annie on April 23, 2012, 12:28 am

      i think so too walid, it’s exciting. i have confidence someday we will look back on this segment of america’s history and realize what a dark dark path it was and have regret and apologize. it’s as if a mcCarthy era is upon us. a dark day brought about by zionism run wild thru our congress and court. well, not all of our courts but enough of them.

      these are righteous people, and if they do not come out on top it signals much more distress. but i have faith in ordinary people. this is the right time, the right setting and the right case. they will prevail and perhaps their names will go down in history and a legacy will be born…or something. this is an awesome opportunity because of the integrity of the people involved and their persistence of the american dream. they did everything right and toiled long hours just to raise their families..and then to be victims of so much prejudice.

      and to think right here on mondoweiss one of our feature contributors is…a daughter. this is amazing. now i have an idea about where this quality comes from that makes her so special, such an amazing voice we cherish here.

      not sure why roqayah’s user data is not included in this post, but for some of her other AMAZING articles:

      context is everything and this story, this story certainly provides context. what an honor it must be to be born into a family with a dad like this, who has struggled like this. my prayers…for this to heal my country.

  4. iRevolt on April 22, 2012, 10:39 pm

    Thank you all for the support; it means more than I can express in words, to both myself and my family.

  5. iRevolt on April 23, 2012, 2:51 pm

    For those who would like to be more involved and send the stores involved an email, I’ve drafted one!

    Thank you again

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