A Muslim man who found his faith as his mother-in-law was dying from cancer says he was fired from Bed Bath & Beyond because of his beard.
Jose Alcantara, 48, was subjected to months of torment after he revealed to co-workers that he was growing his facial hair in adherence with his Muslim faith, according to a suit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court.
His colleagues repeatedly referred to him as a “terrorist.” Alcantara claims the HR department ignored his pleas for help.
And the harassment culminated in Alcantara being canned — ostensibly for missing work days after a supervisor tampered with his vacation schedule, the lawsuit says.
When I was being called a terrorist, it made me question everything — my religion, my beliefs, myself,” Alcantara told the Daily News.
“These were people I trusted and was trying to develop a relationship with. I felt really betrayed. They stabbed me in the back.”
Bed Bath & Beyond defended itself in a statement to the Daily News.
“Bed Bath & Beyond strictly prohibits any form of harassment or unlawful discrimination,” it reads. “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.”
Alcantara said his ordeal began in October 2012 after he landed a job, with an annual salary of $47,000, as a department manager at the Bed Bath & Beyond on Broadway at W. 65th St.
Alcantara had just undergone a rough patch — he had beaten mouth and throat cancer — and was looking forward to a fresh start.
At first, the new gig was working out better than he ever imagined.
“Everyone was really friendly and nice,” said Alcantara, who at the time was living in Sunnyside, Queens, with his fiancée and their son. “It was a pleasure to go to work.”
But his relationship with colleagues took a dramatic turn a few months later after he started growing his beard.
Alcantara turned to Islam as he watched his beloved mother-in-law slowly succumb to cancer.
“I had nowhere to turn but religion,” Alcantara said.
In February 2013, Alcantara recalled that he was approached by a human resources manager and asked a highly personal question.
“What’s going on with the beard?” she asked, the suit says.
Alcantara explained that he was growing it as part of his religious practice, prompting the HR manager to ask his religion.
After Alcantara revealed he was a Muslim, the HR rep said the store manager Kellie Marsalli had instructed her to inquire about his faith, the suit says.
Almost immediately, Alcantara alleges in his lawsuit that one of his co-workers began greeting him differently: “Good morning, terrorist. How are you terrorist?”
Another co-worker joined in, even after he begged them to stop, the suit says.
Alcantara had a disturbing meeting with an HR manager a few months later when he was asked if he was “seriously following the Muslim religion,” the suit says.
The HR rep said the store manager was harassing her about the beard.
“I’m still following my religion and there is no problem with my beard,” Alcantara shot back, the suit says.
Marsalli, the store manager, soon became “short-tempered, abrupt and extremely hostile” toward Alcantara, the suit says.
In November 2013, Alcantara requested to take off from Dec. 23 to Jan. 2, 2014. The request was approved, and Alcantara was later provided with a work schedule showing he was also off on Jan. 4 and Jan. 5.
But Alcantara, after returning to work following his vacation, was confronted by Marsalli and told he was being fired for not showing up on Jan. 3 through Jan. 5, the suit says.
The lawsuit includes a picture apparently showing Alcantara’s schedule was altered to reflect that he was supposed to work those days.
“I just wanted to work and take care of my family,” Alcantara said. “I never thought that I was going to get fired over this.”
Marsalli, who was also named in the suit, referred a request for comment to Bed Bath & Beyond.
In July, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that the store had discriminated against Alcantara based on his religion — and issued a “right to sue letter.”
“My client is a hard-working guy,” said Alcantara’s lawyer Adam Slater. “It’s not right that he was systematically targeted, ridiculed and ultimately terminated, simply for practicing his religion openly.”