How A Black Lives Matter Mask Led To This Lawsuit Against Whataburger

Whataburger may be popular for its burgers, but what the chain has also been becoming infamous for in recent years is lawsuits. A wrongful death suit was first filed against the chain in 2017 for a shooting at one of its outlets in New Mexico (via KRQE) and another was filed in 2020 for a separate incident in Alamo, Texas (as noted by San Antonio Express News). Whataburger has also previously been sued by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for racial discrimination while hiring new applicants (per the EEOC).

And according to reports, Whataburger has gotten into hot water yet again. A former employee has filed a lawsuit against the chain claiming that she was racially discriminated against for wearing a Black Lives Matter face mask, and later losing her job over the matter, says Newsweek. Ma'Kiya Congious, a Black woman, was working at a Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex outlet on August 4, 2020, when a white customer complained about her mask.

Congious claims that there had been no issues about her wearing the BLM mask until that incident. However, after the complaint from the customer, she was asked by the manager to wear a generic face mask from that day onwards. In a statement later issued to Star-Telegram, Whataburger said that the chain "supports racial equality ... This is simply a matter of enforcing our uniform policy. Whataburger employees are provided company-issued masks that comply with our policy and adhere to CDC and local government guidance."

Per the lawsuit, however, Congious claims that employees of other races were allowed to wear all sorts of masks including one with a Mexican flag. Her attorney Jason C.N. Smith has since said that Congious was singled out based on her race and for wearing a BLM mask, whereas other employees were allowed to wear those of their choosing.

Whataburger's manager claimed that the chain didn't "want to get into anything political"

As per Newsweek's report, former employee Ma'Kiya Congious was told by the manager, "Whataburger wants you to wear masks that have no opinions whatsoever on them. You're entitled to your personal opinions — that's fine. But at Whataburger, we don't want to portray them, because some people may be offended." The manager justified his request by telling Congious that, "This is a big business ... Whataburger doesn't want to get into anything political, because we're just hamburgers and fries."

Following the incident, Congious put in her two weeks notice, and the manager supposedly replied, "You want to put your two weeks notice in? We accept it, and you don't have to come back at all." According to the lawsuit, when Congious asked the manager for an explanation, he called the police.

One month after the incident, Congious called for "five steps of action" from the burger chain. The steps involved allowing all employees to wear BLM masks without the fear of harassment or termination, a statement from the CEO stating "Black Lives Matter to Whataburger" on social media, an implicit bias training for all current and new employees as well for the chain to recognize Juneteenth. After Whataburger failed to comply with her call for action, Congious filed a lawsuit in August.