A teacher was fired and a fast food worker pushed out of her job in Texas for the same reason: wearing a mask supporting “Black Lives Matter” to work.
Lillian White told CBS affiliate KENS she was fired from Great Hearts Western Hill charter school in San Antonio for wearing her mask, while Ma’Kiya Congious's attorney said she was “pushed” out of her job as a cashier at Whataburger in Fort Worth for her covering.
Both women’s former places of work claim that they violated policies as to what is allowed to appear on the masks, and Whataburger alleges that Congious voluntarily resigned, according to a statement obtained by PEOPLE.
White, an art teacher, joined her colleagues for a series of weekly in-person training sessions in July, and each time, wore a homemade mask with the phrases “Black Lives Matter” and “Silence is Violence” written on them, KENS reported.
“For about a week and a half I was wearing these masks and no one said anything,” she told the outlet. “A couple of the other teachers came up and asked for some, if I had any extras, and I made them some.”
But White said she then received a text message from the school’s assistant principal asking her to stop wearing the masks, as parents would soon be more present around campus and “we don’t discuss the current political climate.”
White reportedly ignored multiple requests not to wear the mask until she was eventually fired.
“This is human rights and it should be something that is promoted at our school,” she told KENS. “It’s an excuse to not talk about it by saying this is politics, talk about it on your own time. It’s just an excuse because they’re uncomfortable with the conversation.”
In a statement to PEOPLE, Great Hearts Texas Superintendent Daniel Scoggin says the school has a policy written by school leaders and teachers requiring face coverings have no external messages. He adds that the school does not issue public comment on specific personnel matters.
“Great Hearts was founded and exists today to serve the innate dignity and worth of every human being. We stand with the Black community and all who are suffering,” the statement says. “Great Hearts deplores bigotry and its crushing effects on all those subjected to it. Great Hearts is committed to an America where racism, violence, and injustice do not happen, because such acts find no home in the hearts of a great people.”
Meanwhile, more than 250 miles away in Fort Worth, Congious, who is Black, wore a “Black Lives Matter” mask featuring a fist to her shift at Whataburger for the first time on July 31, the Washington Post reported.
When she returned days later, a white customer reportedly threatened to call Whataburger’s corporate offices over the 19-year-old’s mask.
Congious and her co-workers were spoken to by a supervisor in a conversation that was recorded and obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“You’re entitled to your personal opinions and that’s fine. But at Whataburger, we don’t want to portray them because… some people may be offended,” the supervisor said. “This is a big issue. Whataburger doesn’t want to get into anything political because we’re just hamburgers and fries.”
According to the Post, Congious asked her supervisors how to put in her two weeks’ notice as the conversation grew more heated, and a manager allegedly told her that it was accepted on the spot, and she did not have to return.
Congious said she hadn’t actually decided whether she wanted to quit or not when she asked about it, but when she stayed in the store, her supervisors called police. Five cars responded and she left and did not come back to work, the Post reported.
Congious’ attorney Jason C. N. Smith said in a statement his client has filed a complaint against Whataburger with the State of Texas, and is calling for a 90-day boycott so the company can make changes, as well as provide “implicit bias training” for all current managers.
In a statement to PEOPLE, a spokesperson for Whataburger says Congious "voluntarily resigned due to a disagreement over our company uniform policy," and that she was paid for the two weeks she was scheduled to work.
“If we allow any non-Whataburger slogans as part of our uniforms, we have to allow all slogans,” the statement says. “This could create tension and conflict among our employees and our customers. It is our job as a responsible brand to proactively keep our employees and customers safe.”
The statement adds that the company "believes in racial equality," and that many of its charitable efforts aim to benefit Black and other minority communities.
The Post reported that Congious said in her complaint that other workers at her Whataburger location had worn face coverings featuring the Gucci logo and the Mexican flag.
“It’s not a political thing,” she said, according to the outlet. “It’s just a statement that says ‘Black Lives Matter’ because we do matter.”
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
• Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
• ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.
• National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.
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