Another manager of a Subway Restaurants franchise in Edmonton has come forward with a complaint of religious discrimination, alleging an official of the sandwich chain refused to let him wear his turban while serving customers.
The complaint is the second made public recently by Sikh Subway franchisees and managers against Dan Mohan, the sandwich chain's development agent in Calgary. Mr. Mohan has not returned several calls.
Harminder Pandher said Mr. Mohan was discourteous, made fun of his religion and told him he could not wear his turban, a key article of his Sikh faith.
"I did the training course in Connecticut [Subway head office]with the turban on and worked in stores there and never had a problem," said Mr. Pandher, 41, who managed a store owned by his wife.
"Then in the year 2000, I was told I must wear Subway visors or baseball caps. I said, 'Why is this coming up now?' "
Mr. Pandher decided to air his complaint publicly after Hardip Singh Brah, another Sikh franchisee in Edmonton, made his religious-discrimination case public earlier this month.
Mr. Brah complained that Mr. Mohan referred to his turban as a "diaper on his head," and filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission. Mr. Mohan has denied making the derogatory remark.
Subway requires employees who wear turbans or other religious coverings to apply in writing for waivers of the company dress code, a policy that Mr. Brah and Mr. Pandher say is discriminatory and infringes on their freedom of religious expression.
"The waiver policy is neither necessary nor fair," said Mr. Pandher, who is considering filing a human-rights complaint as well. "On the one side, Subway is claiming to be an international company. I should be able to wear my turban without special permission."
The Pandher family decided to buy Subway franchises in the 1990s. Mr. Pandher's wife purchased two Subway outlets in 1998 and 1999, and the couple travelled to Connecticut for training.
Mr. Pandher was permitted to wear his turban in Connecticut and in Edmonton until May, 2000, when a field representative cited him for being "out of compliance." He was not wearing the requisite company baseball cap.
Mr. Pandher says he attempted to resolve the matter for more than two years, leaving several telephone messages with Mr. Mohan and finally travelling to Calgary to see him in person in the spring of 2003.
"They were very rude to me," said Mr. Pandher, who finally hired a lawyer. "This has been very frustrating for me. I was scared to work in my own stores." The family ended up selling the two Edmonton stores, and Mrs. Pandher bought another one in High Level, Alta.
Mr. Pandher's lawyer, Barinder Pannu, wrote a letter to Subway in March of this year outlining the "denigrating and humiliating" attitude of company representatives in Calgary:
"Finally, I come to the not-so-subtle message which is being conveyed to Mr. Pandher that his wearing a turban is contrary to the dress policy of the company," Mr. Pannu wrote.
He noted that his client did not feel he had to make a special request to wear his turban as "the exemption already exists in law."
David Cousins, a Subway lawyer in Connecticut, responded two months later that he would treat the letter as Mr. Pandher's waiver request: "This letter may be used as a grant of the uniform waiver to him," he wrote.
Kevin Kane, a Subway spokesman in Connecticut, said the company's uniform-waiver policy worked well until the two recent complaints from Edmonton.
"The point of the policy was to make things easier, not make life difficult for people," Mr. Kane said.
"I'm not sure if this is pushing up the need to review the policy. Someone will probably take a look at it."
He said franchisees' disputes with local Subway development agents may be resolved through the company's head office, which has the ability to suspend or discipline the agents.
He could not say whether Mr. Mohan has been disciplined.
There is a large body of jurisprudence establishing a person's Charter right to freedom of religious expression, said Shirish Chotalia, the lawyer representing Mr. Brah in his human-rights complaint.
The Federal Court of Canada ruled in 1995 that Sikh RCMP officers may wear turbans, Ms. Chotalia noted. She argued the case on behalf of the Sikh community.