A 38-year-old Muslim man is suing Bed Bath & Beyond, claiming that the home-goods chain tampered with his weekly schedule and subsequently fired him—all because he converted to Islam and grew out his beard.
Jose Alcantara has filed suit against the retailer, alleging that, at first, he thoroughly enjoyed his department manager position at Bed Bath & Beyond on 65th Street near Columbus Circle. Alcantara landed the job in October 2012, and began growing out his facial hair the following February.
According to the lawsuit, a human resources representative approached him that winter and asked, "What's going on with the beard?" Alcantara explained that he had recently converted to Islam. According to the Daily News, Alcantara's mother-in-law had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer—a traumatic life event that prompted his conversion.
Once his religion was known around the store, Alcantara says that a supervisor and a training manager started calling him a terrorist. They allegedly greeted him regularly with, "Good morning, terrorist," and "How are you terrorist?" and on multiple occasions ordered him to "come here terrorist."
According to the lawsuit, these coworkers also asked him regularly,"Why don't you believe in God?" and, "Why aren't you Christian or Catholic?" Kellie Marsalli, the store's manager, is singled out in the suit as one of Alcantara's harassers. She allegedly gave him complex on-the-job tasks that he struggled to complete, and re-wrote performance reviews that she deemed "too fair."
Alcantara's efforts to alert HR and management to the alleged harassment were futile, according to his attorney Adam Slater. "When he went to complain to HR and other higher-ups, they did nothing," Slater told us this morning. At one such meeting, an HR rep allegedly asked Alcantara if he was "seriously following the Muslim religion."
The suit alleges that Alcantara requested to take off December 23 through January 2, 2013, for the holidays. When he received his schedule for the week he says that it showed vacation days through January 5th. According to suit, the words "CL" for "close" were later handwritten onto Alcantara's schedule for the 3rd through the 5th, without his knowledge. The markings indicated that Alcantara was now scheduled to work during that three-day stretch. The suit alleges that Marsalli made the changes herself.
"It was an obvious setup," Slater told us. "His schedule was clearly tampered with."
Alcantara was fired when he returned from his winter vacation on the grounds that he missed three days of work. His suit alleges that Bed Bath & Beyond sabotaged him.
“Bed Bath & Beyond strictly prohibits any form of harassment or unlawful discrimination,” said the chain store in a statement. "We disagree with the characterization of the separation that was provided. We will respond to this matter in the appropriate forum, should any further legal action be taken.”