OAKLAND — A bank has apologized to a Muslim woman denied service in December because she was wearing a hijab, but has also defended its decision.
When Safa Magid went to Community Bank of the Bay to make a deposit, a teller refused to serve her, explaining that the bank's policy prohibiting people from wearing hats included head scarves.
"The woman asked if I could take off my scarf," Magid said Thursday. "And I said, 'No, I'm not going to take off my scarf.' Then, she said she couldn't serve me because I'm wearing a scarf."
Magid then tried to explain that she wore the scarf for religious reasons, but that a second bank employee confirmed the "no hat" ban included Magid's scarf.
Magid, who had visited the Broadway bank previously without incident, closed her account. She later sought help from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"(The bank) immediately recognized that there was an error, but I think it points to a deeper problem," said Agnes Chong, a Bay Area coordinator for the civil rights organization. The council has called attention to similar bank practices across the country.
The president of the Oakland bank blamed the incident on an "overzealous" employee who was "not exercising good judgment."
The bank stood by its no hats policy, meant to deter robberies, but the president, Brian Garrett, said it must be applied with common sense.
Garrett wrote in a letter this week to the Council on
"My staff was very unnerved at the time," he said in an interview Thursday. His wife had been threatened with a shotgun during a Concord robbery last year, he said.
"There's been some use of religious dress to engage in bank robberies. You can go look at the FBI Web site," he said.
The bank, as is increasingly common at banks throughout the country, also requires customers to remove dark sunglasses, hoods and other headgear. "We had a gentleman today who was very upset because I told him to remove his hood," Garrett said. "I said I'm sorry, that's the rules."
Born and raised in Oakland, and having worn a hijab for many years, Magid said she has never before faced discrimination based on her attire.
A second-year resident in an internal medicine program, Magid said she was stunned by the actions of a bank she had specifically chosen for its environmentally friendly business philosophy.
Magid said she appreciated the bank's apology but was not entirely satisfied.
"I think they should reconsider their policy," she said. "There are a lot of people in the Bay Area who choose to wear head covering for religious reasons, whether it's Jewish men or Indians."
Though he apologized, Garrett rejected Magid's request that the bank take up sensitivity and diversity training for employees. There is no lack of sensitivity among the bank's diverse staff, he wrote in the letter.
Citing security concerns, he also said the company would not implement a "blanket allowance of any type of headscarves", instead considering exceptions individually.
"I would say, please, may I speak to someone, this is a religious issue to me," Garrett said.
The bank president said he was upset that his bank was being "vilified." He said he has written and mailed a letter of apology to Magid, but no one had ever called him directly to talk about the incident.
"I consider it a private matter between her and us," he said. "She's decided to make it much more vocal."
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