Mohammad Husain and his wife were looking for a bite to eat and a nice place to relax when they stopped in last month at a Shreveport, La. sandwich shop owned by Rep. John Fleming (R-LA).
But that visit soon turned turbulent, Husain told TPM recently, when he found himself locked out of the Subway franchise and his wife locked inside with an employee telling them they were not welcome there because they were Muslim.
“I never have felt this kind of open discrimination,” Husain said in an interview on Friday. “I’m sure there’s people that do discriminate. They have their own prejudices. That’s human nature. But for somebody to openly at a public place to show that open hatred and openly discriminate upon a religion, I think this should not be allowed.”
Neither Fleming nor his spokesman returned calls to the congressman’s office or home. But a manager who runs several Subway franchises owned by Fleming told TPM he has video that proves Husain is wrong about what happened that day. The manager declined to make that public.
Meanwhile, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has demanded Subway apologize for the incident and asked the local police to investigate.
The incident took place on Nov. 21, when Husain and his wife, Talat, were traveling from their home in the New Orleans area to Dallas for a Thanksgiving celebration. Husain said he is diabetic and has to eat every few hours, so they stopped at the restaurant at about 3 p.m.
Husain has a beard and wears a traditional Muslim hat. His wife wears a hijab. He said they initially went to the restaurant bathroom to wash their hands. He washed first and then went back to the car to get his medication while his wife went into the bathroom after him.
When he tried to go back into the restaurant, however, he said an employee stopped him at the door.
“She asked me point blank ‘Are you Muslim?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I’m Muslim,’ She said ‘We can’t serve you’ and locked the door from inside when my wife was still inside the store,” Husain said.
The situation quickly escalated and Husain ended up calling 911. So did a Subway employee. At some point before police arrived, however Husain said the employee unlocked the door and let his wife leave but also made it clear they should take their business elsewhere.
An officer with the Shreveport Police Department arrived after that. Both Husain and a department spokesman said the officer initially patted Husain down to check for weapons. But spokesman Cpl. Marcus Hines said the officer eventually determined the situation was much ado about nothing. Department records show the officer didn’t even file a report.
“I think it was just a misunderstanding for the most part that really sparked the entire ordeal,” Hines told TPM.
The Subway employees had a much different version of events than Husain did, though. They told the officer that Husain engaged in some sort of inappropriate behavior and then cursed at them when they asked him to leave, Hines said.
The manager of the congressman’s Subway franchises backed up his employees in an interview with TPM, saying they did nothing wrong and that Husain has been lying about the confrontation.
Manager Mike Toland said Husain had in some way acted inappropriately inside the restaurant. Pressed on what Husain did, however, the manager declined to elaborate. He said he didn’t want to specify because a lawsuit may end up coming out of the situation.
“The accusations made my Mr. Husain are completely inaccurate and untrue,” Toland told TPM late Friday. “The reason he was denied being served in our restaurant was due to his behavior with my employee, nothing to do with his religion or anything else. We serve everybody that comes in our restaurant every day. As long as they have money, we take their money.”
Toland also said he has security video with audio that confirms his employees’ side of the story, but declined to provide a copy of it. He said the audio was partially obscured by loud Christmas music. Still, Toland said he was satisfied that his employee had done nothing wrong.
“I could hear every word that she said and I can assure you, religion was never brought up in any way, shape or form,” Toland said. “That conversation didn’t happen.”
Fleming’s businesses have several Muslims employed in upper management, according to Toland. “We don’t have a discriminatory bone in our company,” he said. “We are here to make money, and any customer that has money is welcome to come in our store and spend it, provided that they behave properly.”
Toland only discusses business with the congressman every few months, but he said the Louisiana Republican was aware of the incident. “He has no involvement in this whatsoever. That’s what he pays me for,” Toland said.
Last week, the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked the Shreveport police to investigate whether its officers did anything wrong, including failing to help stop the discrimination. But on Monday, the police spokesman told TPM he didn’t expect the agency to conduct an internal inquiry because no one has explicitly alleged the officers did something wrong.
Likewise, the civil rights group also asked Subway corporate headquarters to investigate and demanded an apology from the company. The company referred the investigation to Fleming’s franchise and has so far offered no apology.
Husain said the the initial confrontation finally ended when the police officer told him to leave. The officer told him the Subway employees were scared of him, he said.
He and his wife wound up driving down the highway and stopping at another Subway shop, this one inside an Exxon gas station also in Shreveport. There, they said they were served without issue. Local records show the location is owned by someone other than Fleming.