Eight cab drivers claim their boss made them choose between prayer and their job
ORLANDO – It’s often said, “A picture’s worth 1,000 words,” but for the man in a picture taken a few months ago at Orlando’s Premium Outlets, the picture was worth his job.
“The place that we pray at is over here,” Mohamed BenHassine said, pointing to an area of the outlet mall, beside a dumpster.
BenHassine is a devout Muslim, which means praying five times a day for five to seven minutes.
He and seven other Star Taxi drivers claim management threatened to fire them if they prayed while on the job.
“Either you practice your religion or you lose your job,” Ben Hassine said. “I don’t think that’s fair in this country.”
Tuesday, BenHassine’s legal team will file a formal discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of eight Star Taxi drivers, all of whom claim they’ve been threatened by management for praying.
“For the average practicing Muslim, it’s like asking them to stop eating food,” said CAIR Director Hassan Shibly. “It’s integral. It’s the soul of our life.”
Under federal law, employers must make reasonable accommodations for religious practices, as long as it doesn’t create an undue burden on business.
In this case, BenHassine claims he prayed on his breaks, just like others who smoked or went to the bathroom.
“This is a clear case of violation of state, federal and local law,” said Hudson & Calleja attorney Michael Hanna, who is representing the drivers. “The most important thing is to bring this type of discrimination to light.”
ABC Action News tried several times to reach Star Taxi for comment, but no phone calls were returned.
BenHassine’s legal team believes the case stretches far beyond the dumpster where the driver’s prayed, and where BenHassine was fired January 8.
“It means they could essentially fire anybody of any faith for doing their prayers,” Shibly said. “We’re doing this case to protect the religious freedom of all Americans.”
The EEOC has 180 days to investigate, at which point BenHassine’s attorneys will file for a right to sue.
The suit asks for sensitivity training and financial reimbursement, but BenHassine says he just wants to work.
“If they let us pray without bothering us, yes why not? I’ll take my job back,” he said.