Advocates for Minnesota‘s Muslim community are welcoming a settlement between the federal government and a large meat-processing company accused of discriminating against some of its workers, including Muslims and immigrants from Somalia.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said JBS Swift has agreed to pay more than $5 million to settle claims in a lawsuit filed by the agency more than a decade ago. The suit alleged JBS denied religious accommodations to Muslim employees at a Colorado plant.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Minnesota (CAIR-Minnesota), said even though the case is from another state, the problem persists in the Midwest.
“CAIR Minnesota, we still represent close to 40% of our legal cases for employment-related discrimination; individuals who are denied prayer,” Hussein explained.
Beyond meat and poultry plants, he noted there are also instances in office settings where cleaning staff are denied the ability to pray.
In the JBS case, the company was also accused of shutting off water fountains during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The EEOC determined the action prevented Muslim employees from being able to get a drink of water after fasting all day.
Hussein recounted workers resorted to praying in bathrooms, which he called dehumanizing. He added being forced to choose between faith and work is very hard on these individuals.
“These are families that already live check-to-check, families who are also sending money back home to their relatives, families who are recently arrivals to the United States, who don’t have a strong safety net,” Hussein outlined.
In Minnesota, Hussein emphasized his group hopes to see legislation that would close loopholes for companies that avoid liability in these situations. He acknowledged while some employers have become more accommodating, new management will sometimes come in and resort to old practices.
In the Colorado case, 300 workers will share in the settlement.