Muslim woman La-Fleur Mohamed accuses Boca Raton Chevron of religious discrimination

"You can't come in here dressed like that," Mohamed said the clerk told her inside a station store west of Boca Raton in October. The clerk allegedly tossed Mohamed's gas money back at her and instructed her to leave.

Mohamed, 39, a Boca Raton married mother of four, has since been receiving assistance from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group with chapters nationwide.

At a press conference in Pembroke Pines on Wednesday, she and the group demanded that Chevron officials admit that religious discrimination occurred. And they want Chevron to start additional training companywide so that such violations don't happen again.

The group showed two letters from Chevron. The latest, dated Jan. 17, states the company reviewed the matter, didn't see evidence of discrimination, but took "corrective action to address this issue."

"The parties involved for my public humiliation need to take responsibility and accept that they did violate my rights and apologize," Mohamed said.

Chevron spokesman Brent Tippen said Wednesday that Mohamed was asked by the employee to remove her veil, and when she declined, she was denied service.

But he said it was done for security just before Halloween, when retailers are prone to heists from people wearing masks and other facial coverings.

"We fully believe that our employee acted without the intent to violate Ms. Mohamed's religious principles and any suggestion that discrimination is acceptable at Chevron is completely false," he said.

Chevron, which employs 60,000 from around the world, has a policy that requires everyone be treated with respect and dignity, he said.

According to Tippen, the company regrets the misunderstanding. It has apologized twice to Mohamed, encouraged employees to "be more aware of potential diversity issues" and "continues to take Ms. Mohamed's allegations seriously," he said.

Mohamed, a native of St. Vincent in the Caribbean, pulled up to the station at 19345 U.S. 441 on Oct. 28, she said.

She said hello to the female worker, who appeared to be in her mid-20s, handed the worker $20 and asked if she could "please have $20 on Pump No. 1."

After the worker declined to serve her, Mohamed collected her money and walked back to her car in tears, she said. Her parents were in the vehicle waiting for her, she said.

"I was so embarrassed to tell them that I was just denied service," she said.

With her car's fuel guage on empty, Mohamed said she was concerned that her car would run out of gas if she tried to drive to another station. She phoned 911.

When a Palm Beach sheriff's deputy arrived, the deputy unsuccessfully tried to persuade the employee to provide service, she said.

A dispatch log from the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office confirms the agency responded, taking her report that the station was "refusing to give her gas because of her religion." No additional action was taken by the Sheriff's Office because it was a civil matter involving a private business, a sheriff's spokesman said.

Mohamed phoned a friend to meet her at Chevron and accompany her to another station for gas, she said.

South Florida's Council on American-Islamic Relations often receives reports of religious discrimination, but Mohamed's encounter was one of "the most egregious" recent examples of refusal of service, said Nezar Hamze, the group's regional executive director.

"It's important that this is publicly vetted so that our society learns that this type of behavior is unacceptable and un-American," Hamze said.

Wilfredo A. Ruiz, the group's Florida legal counsel, questioned whether security was Chevron's reason for declining service. He said security concerns no longer were a factor when a sheriff's deputy also showed up to ask that Mohamed be provided service.

"This case goes beyond security," Ruiz said.

Chevron's Tippen replied that the deputy asked the clerk only why she was declining to provide service. The clerk explained she was following instructions to ask customers to remove facial coverings for the security camera.

Mohamed said she has lived in the United States for the past 25 years. She said she lived in New York and New Jersey before she and her family moved to South Florida for the warmer weather about eight years ago.

Mohamed said that over the years, she has drawn stares from the public for her traditional religious garb. She said she uses such moments to educate people about being a Muslim.

Her veil drew extra attention in July, when she was taken into custody on a domestic battery charge in Alachua County,

accused of wrestling her daughter over a cellphone, according to an article posted online by the Gainesville Sun newspaper. It was her first and only arrest, and the charge was later dismissed, records show.

Her initial jail mugshot shows her wearing the veil. But she later was photographed again without the veil to show her face in accordance with jail policies, the newspaper reported.

The Chevron visit in Palm Beach County was the first time Mohamed was barred from getting service at a business, she said. She said she'll never again visit the business.

"I don't even drive by there," she said.

Staff writer Jorge Valens and staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.

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