A Muslim civil-liberties organization said a Tulsa bank discriminated against a woman by singling her out for wearing a religiously mandated head scarf, or hijab.
The Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, is calling on Tulsa’s Valley National Bank to review its “inappropriate and discriminatory” policy that treats customers wearing religious head coverings differently from other patrons.
The organization says that on Oct. 9, a Muslim woman tried to enter the Valley National Bank branch at 4812 E. 81st St., in hopes that she could exchange foreign currency but was told she would not be able to enter unless accompanied by a bank employee because of their “no hats, no hoods, no sunglasses” policy.
“Singling out Muslim women or other people of faith who wear religiously mandated head coverings that do not hinder identification is inappropriate and discriminatory,” said Adam Soltani, executive director of CAIR’s Oklahoma chapter. “All customers should be treated equally regardless of their faith or religious practices.”
The complainant, a woman from Kiefer, did not want her identity publicized, but Soltani told the Tulsa World that his organization first took her complaint directly to bank officials, “hoping they would acknowledge it was a mistake or offer an apology.”
“We were actually shocked to find out their policy is separate but equal, going back to things that African-Americans and other people have experienced,” he said. “They said, ‘We do allow them in the bank but they must be escorted anywhere they go.’
“Their excuse was it’s a security measure, but there are no reports ever in Oklahoma that I am aware of, of anyone in religious headwear robbing a bank,” Soltani said.
“It may have happened elsewhere, but they are a local bank. It’s not like they’re a big national chain that may have had this happen in other places.”
Soltani provided a copy of the written response from Valley National Bank President Brad Scrivner, and in it, Scrivner apologized to the woman first “for not feeling welcome in our bank” and then explained the reason for his bank’s policy.
“Unfortunately, Valley has been robbed numerous times in the past and is a victim itself of crime. We have policy and procedures in place to thwart future robberies that endanger the lives of our employees and customers,” Scrivner wrote to Soltani. “It is a sad truth that recently, in banks across the United States, criminals are using false religious headdresses for the sole purpose of hiding their identity.”
He added that even women wearing headscarves as a result of cancer treatment have been accompanied by bank security personnel “so as not to discriminate” in the enforcement of the policy.
Contacted by the Tulsa World, Scrivner said his bank adopted the policy in 2006 at the recommendation of the Oklahoma Bankers Association.
“In the six years that this policy has been in place,” he said, “Valley has not had a single complaint” until now.
CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil-liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to “enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.”