Islamic group alleges bias at Rockville bank branch

Boycott is threatened against Bank of America

December 11, 2003|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

The Council on American-Islamic Relations pledged yesterday to call for an international boycott of Bank of America if the company doesn't meet with representatives about claims of religious discrimination at a Rockville branch.

Standing across the street from the branch bank, leaders of the council's Maryland office said they've been trying to talk to company officials for months and will give them two more weeks to set up a meeting.

"They've opened a Pandora's box," said S. Rizwan Mowlana, executive director of the council's state office. "It could have been better for them to address this issue and nip it in the bud."

Mowlana said a Muslim employee of the Rockville branch complained to her manager after another worker circulated an e-mail in April saying Muslim terrorists are quick to commit suicide because, among other reasons, "your bride is picked by someone else. She smells like your donkey, but your donkey has a better disposition."

Mowlana said bank management brushed off the complaint and made life difficult for the Muslim employee afterward, including refusing her a day off on a religious holiday. "She was singled out," he said.

Scott Scredon, a spokesman for the Bank of America, declined to comment on the council's threatened boycott but said the company "conducted a full investigation of the allegations."

"Our investigation did not reveal any evidence of discrimination," he said. "Bank of America has a stated policy against harassment and discrimination. The company is committed to a work environment that enforces that policy."

Mowlana said representatives from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Latino group CASA of Maryland, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and other organizations have voiced their support for the protest, ratcheting up the pressure on Bank of America.

The American-Islamic relations council wants the Bank of America to conduct diversity training, issue an apology and pay a settlement to the employee.

Mowlana said mosques and others with several million dollars in Bank of America accounts have told him they intend to remove the money in the next few days, without waiting for word of an official boycott.

He said the potential local impact is tiny compared with the money that customers in Muslim countries have in international branches of the bank.

But the group would prefer not to boycott Bank of America, Mowlana added. "They provide an excellent service to customers," he said. "Hopefully they will contact us."

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