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Cargill, Somali-American Workers Reach $1.5M Settlement Over Discrimination, Terminations

A group of 138 Somali-American work­ers has reached a $1.5 mil­lion set­tle­ment with Cargill Meat Solu­tions over alle­ga­tions they were wrong­ful ter­mi­nated from the company’s Fort Mor­gan beef pro­cess­ing facil­ity because of their Islamic faith.

The work­ers filed com­plaints with the U.S. Equal Employ­ment Oppor­tu­nity Com­mis­sion (EEOC), alleg­ing the com­pany fired them wrong­fully, and revoked a pol­icy that allowed them to take breaks in order to pray dur­ing their shifts.

In a press release, the EEOC said it found “rea­son­able cause to believe” those alle­ga­tions.  In addi­tion to the mon­e­tary com­pen­sa­tion, Cargill will also con­duct manda­tory train­ing on employee rights for all man­agers and hourly work­ers at the Fort Mor­gan facil­ity, the press release said.

“We applaud Cargill for work­ing with the charg­ing par­ties and the EEOC to reach a mean­ing­ful res­o­lu­tion enabling all par­ties to move for­ward,” said EEOC Phoenix Dis­trict Direc­tor Eliz­a­beth Cadle.

Cargill denied the alle­ga­tions, but set­tled out of court to avoid a long legal dis­pute, the com­pany said in its own press release. It also pledged to “reaf­firm” its com­mit­ment to allow Mus­lim work­ers to take breaks.

“Pro­vid­ing our employ­ees with reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion is an impor­tant part of engag­ing and sup­port­ing our employ­ees, and our pol­icy has remained con­sis­tent for more than 10 years,” said Brian Sikes, pres­i­dent of Cargill Meat Solutions.

The work­ers’ lawyer, Qusair Mohamedb­hai of Den­ver law firm Rathod Mohamedb­hai LLC., said he and his clients are grat­i­fied by the settlement.

“We appre­ci­ate the col­lab­o­ra­tive efforts of Cargill and Cargill’s com­mit­ment to con­tinue to com­mu­ni­cate its long­stand­ing prayer accom­mo­da­tion prac­tices,” he said in a statement.

The Team­sters Local Union No. 455 also agreed to pay $153,000 to resolve dis­crim­i­na­tion com­plaints by the work­ers. The union also agreed to manda­tory train­ing, the EEOC said. The union did not imme­di­ately respond to a request for comment.

Eric Ishi­wata, an Eth­nic Stud­ies pro­fes­sor at Col­orado State Uni­ver­sity, stud­ied Fort Mor­gan exten­sively and stayed in con­tact with work­ers there.

“I always ask them, ‘How are things going?’ Espe­cially around prayer accom­mo­da­tions. And they con­sis­tently say that there’s no prob­lem,” Ishi­wata said.

The fall­out from this con­flict has placed sig­nif­i­cant hard­ships on the work­ers, Ishi­wata said. Some left, oth­ers started com­mut­ing long dis­tances for work. But Ishi­wata remains hope­ful that the set­tle­ment Fri­day will help every­one involved turn the page.

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