When 34-year-old Omar received an email from Samsung’s human resources department inviting him for a job interview, he was pleasantly surprised. He hadn’t applied for a position there, but the email sender told him he was the exact candidate Samsung wanted for its newest software technology position.
Omar was set up for four interviews that took place over the next few weeks: one phone call and three in-person interviews set for Samsung’s Strategy and Innovation Center in San Jose, California.
The interview process, in October 2017, was expedited, Samsung told Omar. He took that as a good sign. After all, the California resident had over 10 years’ experience in the software technology field, and this was an unsolicited job offer. When the date of his in-person interviews arrived, Omar was scheduled for three one-hour meetings, starting with a Samsung software engineer, followed by an interview with the hiring manager and the last with a manager of software engineering.
Omar said he breezed through the first two interviews. They were short, Omar told HuffPost. He said the discussions lacked any “technical depth,” which is unusual for a technology position. The hiring manager told Omar all he needed to do was to impress his last interviewer and that everyone else was convinced Omar was the perfect candidate and that he should secure the position.
But that last interview, Omar said, took a bizarre turn when his interviewer didn’t ask him about his work experiences or technical capabilities. Instead, the interviewer emphasized the importance of company culture, Omar said, and how that included drinking a lot of alcohol, sometimes until 2 in the morning.
“I can tell you’re a Muslim,” the interviewer told Omar. He then pressed him to discuss his religious views and elaborate on his attitude on alcohol.
HuffPost is withholding Omar’s real name over concerns of a backlash from other potential employers. Omar is in the process of interviewing with various other companies for a new job.
Omar said he told his interviewer that although he personally chooses not to drink alcohol, he would have no issue with co-workers doing so. But Omar said the interviewer was not satisfied with his response and questioned him further about his faith, asked how religious he was and how his decision to not drink alcohol might interfere with team “cohesiveness.”
It was only 25 minutes into the one-hour meeting when the interviewer suddenly walked out ― indicating to Omar that the meeting was over. Three days later, Omar found out he did not get the position at Samsung. He said he immediately realized why.
“It all kind of clicked,” he said.
Omar and his lawyer at the San Francisco Bay Area’s office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SFBA) filed a religious discrimination complaint last month over the incident with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
A DFEH spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost that Omar’s complaint against Samsung was received but did not elaborate because the case is ongoing.
“What we want to take away from this,” said Ammad Rafiqi, the civil rights and legal services coordinator at CAIR’s SFBA office, is “that individuals are able to be judged by their qualifications, education and experiences, but also feel comfortable being valued members of the community.”
The lawyer, who conducted his own investigation of the matter, said CAIR-SFBA and Omar may pursue other avenues if they aren’t satisfied with how the DFEH complaint is addressed.
A Samsung spokesperson told HuffPost in an email statement that the company ”is committed to a diverse workplace that respects the rights of all individuals” and promotes “a professional and inclusive culture.” The spokesperson would not confirm if the interviewer Omar identified is still employed by Samsung, but said the company “takes complaints very seriously” and would address Omar’s complaint “through the legal process.”
A LinkedIn profile of the manager who interviewed Omar indicates he is still employed at Samsung.
Omar said he had quickly reached out to Samsung’s human resources department and, in emails HuffPost has reviewed, detailed the problematic interview. He specifically inquired about a course of action to ensure no other Muslim or other religious minority would face similar questions.
Eventually, Omar said, an HR representative responded by phone with what he called a “half-hearted” apology over the last interviewer’s actions. But the representative, he said, did not mention any repercussions for the interviewer or any preventative action.
Omar said he has not heard back from the company since the HR representative’s call. He said that during the past year, after realizing his concerns would not be addressed by Samsung, he worked with CAIR before filing the DFEH complaint on Oct. 24.
Questions about an applicant’s religious belief or practices, unless directly required for a position, such as being a religious organization’s leader, is prohibited by federal law.
“What I would have liked to have heard is that they were taking measures to make sure this kind of thing isn’t going to happen again,” Omar told HuffPost. “I’m surprised at the fact that Samsung, being such a big company as it is, doesn’t do more to ensure that this sort of outcome isn’t there.”
Samsung has 30 days to respond to the complaint filed with DFEH. Omar is still employed at the technology company he worked for at the time of the interviews, a Samsung competitor. He said his experience with Samsung has made him “more conscious” that such discrimination can occur, even before someone is hired.
“I feel like I always knew that these things sort of happened, but it didn’t really manifest itself like the way it did with Samsung,” Omar said. “It really made it clear there are some unwritten rules and unspoken realities in corporate America.”