The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has found reasonable cause that Cargill managers violated the Civil Rights Act by refusing to allow Somali-American Muslim workers to pray during their breaks at a meatpacking plant in Colorado.
The EEOC’s determination, reached Aug. 3, could set up a federal discrimination lawsuit should Cargill fail to seek a settlement agreement with the 140 fired workers seeking legal action. Of the thousands of discrimination charges filed with the federal government each year, a small fraction of them gain the backing of the commission.
In December 2015, about 150 employees walked off the job at Cargill’s meatpacking facility in Fort Morgan, Colo., after supervisors told them they would no longer be allowed to pray during their breaks. Cargill Meat Solutions, the Wichita-based subsidiary of agribusiness giant Cargill Inc., then fired the workers for violating attendance policies.
Cargill maintains that the prayer break issue was a misunderstanding between plant managers and the workers.
“We have had a long-standing commitment to inclusion and diversity, and respect for religious freedom and expression. We do what is required by law and go further to provide additional religious accommodation in our U.S. locations,” said Cargill in a statement Wednesday evening.
According to documents filed last year with the Colorado Labor Department, the workers — who had previously been using their breaks to pray — were suddenly told the company would no longer allow it.