Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Religious Accommodations at Work

Settlement Over Prayer Accommodations

I have previously posted reports from various sources concerning Muslim workers who lost their jobs at JB Swift in Greeley, Colorado and Omaha, Nebraska after walking off the job over protests regarding religious accommodations while at work.

The major issue was employee requests by Muslim workers to have their break periods altered during the Ramadan holiday. Those issues have been taken up by the company and the union, and are presently going through dispute resolution procedures.

In a foreshadowing of what may ultimately transpire, the website reports on a similar issue that took place at Gold'n Plump in St. Cloud Minnesota in 2006.
According to the web site report, Gold'n Plump has agreed to pay $720,000 for class-action plaintiffs' attorneys' fees and $215,000 to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to be distributed among parties involved in a religious discrimination lawsuit against the company.

Nearly 100 Somali Muslim workers who were or currently are employed the St. Cloud, Minn.-based chicken processor will be the recipients of the settlement. According to Nick Pladson, trial attorney for the EEOC, a group of 40 to 80 individuals who were fired for taking prayer breaks during shifts will receive the $215,000.

Mike Hedgeson

CEO Gold'n Plump

Another $150,000 will be awarded to workers who were asked to sign forms acknowledging that they might be asked to handle pork products, although it is against the workers' religion, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

"We entered into the settlement agreement in order to gain more predictability for our business and minimize disruptions for our employees moving forward," said Mike Helgeson, CEO for Gold'n Plump, in a statement.

The original class-action lawsuit was filed in October 2006 by nine Somali employees of Gold'n Plump plants in Cold Spring, Minn. and Arcadia, Wis.

The settlement, originally reached in September was the first federally mediated agreement in the nation that required an employer to make accommodations for Islamic prayer time.

Helgeson does not view the settlement as precedent-setting for the industry. "It was based on our unique set of circumstances," he stated. "Other U.S. companies have agreed to a range of different prayer accommodations."

The agreement requires plants to add a paid break during the second half of each shift to accommodate Islamic prayer schedules. It also stipulates that Muslim workers have the right to refuse to handle pork.

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