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US Muslim man says he was fired for using personal days to attend Friday prayers

According to the complaint, he requested a shift swap at his former employer, Southwest Airlines. But when that was denied, he took personal days to attend Jummah prayers
A Southwest Airlines passenger jet lands at Chicago Midway International Airport, on 28 December 2022 (AFP)

A Muslim man is alleging that an airline company discriminated against him by not allowing him to switch his shifts in order to attend Friday (Jummah) prayers. 

Justin Mavins, who also goes by Dauwd Mavins, started working for Southwest Airlines at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on 28 November 2022. His duties included loading and unloading luggage and ushering in planes.

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At the time, Mavins was a trainee and had to complete a six-month probationary period. As a trainee, he worked Tuesdays through Saturdays and was given three days for personal leave.

One month later, on 28 December, his employment was terminated.

According to the complaint, filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair), Mavins asked his manager to swap his morning shifts on Fridays to afternoon shifts so that he could attend Jummah prayers. Mavins says he contacted the "Southwest accommodation team", an HR division in Dallas, on 13 December.

While he was going back and forth with the accommodation team waiting for their response, he continued to use his personal days to attend Jummah prayers on Fridays. On 21 December, his request to switch shifts was denied. 

Then on Thursday 22 December, Southwest Airlines issued a state of emergency in which more than 16,700 flights were cancelled nationwide because of multiple factors, including a snowstorm. 

During this emergency, Southwest Airlines sent a memo to ramp agents which said that anyone who failed to work their regular shifts would be terminated, the complaint stated. The memo also noted that the company would deny requests for personal absence.

On the following Friday, Mavins used a personal day to attend prayer services, which according to the Islamic faith is mandatory. “Had his accommodation request to swap shifts been granted, he would have shown up for work that day,” the complaint states.

On 28 December, he was terminated from his job.

“I regret to inform you that observations of your attendance have led us to conclude that you are not suitable for this job, and that your employment is hereby terminated as a result of your failure to pass probation,” the email from his manager said, according to the complaint.

In an emailed statement, Southwest Airlines said it will “research the claims and engage with the EEOC on [the] next steps”. EEOC is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“Southwest Airlines is an Equal Opportunity Employer, and prides itself on an open and inclusive work environment that consistently ranks among the world’s best places to work … Our People are our greatest asset, and it is our goal to support our Employees and our Customers who come from all walks of life,” the statement read.

According to Cair, Southwest denied Mavins “reasonable religious accommodations and terminated his employment as a result of his need for religious accommodations in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act.”

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