Pot-Smoking Black Muslim Sues Jewish Employer for Racism After Ousting

A Muslim, African-American man is suing his former employer, a Jewish congregation, for discrimination based on his race and religion, unlawful retaliation, and constructive discharge.

Jamahl Hargust was hired by Congregation Beth Shalom as a cook in August 2012 for the congregation’s kosher food preparation center, knowing that Hargust was, and remains, a practicing Muslim, according to the complaint.

Two weeks later, Hargust claims the congregation changed his position from cook to packer and was specifically told the change was made because of his religion; he was replaced as cook by a Jewish employee, the complaint states.

When Hargust was asked to fill out a form stating that he was declining the congregation’s health insurance benefits, he was told that the human resources employee making the request “doesn’t like Black people,” the complaint states.

While performing cleaning work for the congregation, Hargust claims he was ridiculed and berated by a Jewish co-worker for being Muslim. He claims he remained calm and respectful in the face of these taunts despite being highly offended; he later received an apology letter from the harassing co-worker, which stated that the conduct was based on Hargust’s devotion to Islam.

In 2014, Hargust expressed interest in becoming a driver for the congregation and was told he could expect a raise in pay of approximately $100, according to the complaint. But once becoming a driver, he only received an additional $50. No explanation or reason was given why he was receiving less than other employees.

The congregation then required Hargust, another African-American as well as several other employees to undergo drug testing. Hargust claims that of all the employees subjected to the testing, all but one were non-Jewish employees. When Hargust tested positive for marijuana, the congregation’s policy was immediately changed so that any positive tests would result in a thirty day suspension, a requirement that the employee pay for a re-test, and immediate termination upon a second positive test, according to the complaint.

Hargust shared this new policy with a Jewish co-worker who had smoked marijuana with him in the past. When the co-worker asked about the new policy, Hargust claims he overhead him being told not to worry about it and that the supervisor “would take care of it.”

Additionally, according to the complaint, when Hargust complained he and other African-American employees were being called “boy,” instead of responding to requests to use their given names, he was told to “stop being so sensitive” because “they were just joking around.”

Despite Hargust’s repeated complaints about the demeaning and discriminatory behavior by his co-workers and supervisors, he claims he was ignored. By March 2017 the congregation’s “egregious discrimination and harassment of [Hargust] was so severe and pervasive that no reasonable person in [his] position could have been expected to continue working for [the congregation] under similar conditions,”  the complaint states.

Hargust “is seeking damages to redress the injuries [he] suffered as a result of being discriminated against and retaliated against by his employer on the basis of his race and religion and his opposition to and reporting of such discrimination, as well as being forced to endure a hostile work environment, together with unlawful termination.” the complaint states.

The suit was brought in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by Derek Smith Law of Philadelphia.

Drew Lincoln (Flickr)