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This Company Fired Muslims Who Wanted To Pray On The Job. Now The Workers Are Fighting Back.

A Muslim man prays in Sterling, Virginia. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/SAIT SERKAN GURBUZ
A Muslim man prays in Sterling, Virginia. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/SAIT SERKAN GURBUZ

A group of Somali Muslims are filing charges against a hardware company for refusing to accommodate their prayer schedule and firing those who do not comply, arguing the organization’s actions amount to religious discrimination.

Last Thursday, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of 21 Somali-Muslim workers. The complaint alleges that Truth Hardware and Doherty Staffing Solutions denied factory workers in Owatonna, MN, the right to perform a religious ritual observed by millions of followers of Islam — praying five times daily — while on the job.

It is the constitutional right of these employees to have their religious practices accommodated.

CAIR-MN claims that several Muslim employees requested a religious accommodation to break from their work during the day for a brief prayer, but were instructed by management to wait until the end of a shift before participating in the ritual. Those that refused were told to stop working until the company created a new shift system, yet administrators reportedly never called noncompliant employees back to work, and fired several others for “violating the bathroom policy” by spilling water on the floor — actions CAIR-MN says are discriminatory.

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“It is the constitutional right of these employees to have their religious practices accommodated, and companies need to start adapting their workplace policies accordingly,” CAIR-MN Civil Rights Director Amarita Singh said in press release.

Meanwhile, AmesburyTruth, the parent company of Truth Hardware, insists it did nothing wrong.

“AmesburyTruth complies with all local, state and federal workplace laws,” read a statement emailed to ThinkProgress. “We adamantly deny any wrongdoing related to the pending EEOC charge.”

The complaint is the latest in a series of disputes between Muslims and U.S. companies that fail to accommodate prayer observance. In December 2015, a meat processing plant in Fort Morgan, Colorado fired roughly 150 Muslim employees who refused to show up for work while protesting the company’s prayer policy. The plant argued they had only asked employees to pray in smaller groups instead of all at once, citing concerns over work stoppages. But CAIR officials said the policy was far more rigid in practice, and that workers were told “If you want to pray, go home.”

A similar incident occurred in early 2016 at a snowblower and lawnmower factory in Wisconsin, where Ariens Company unexpectedly revoked a policy allowing Somali immigrant workers two extra five-minute prayer breaks per day. Instead, management instructed employees to limit prayer to pre-arranged lulls in the workday. When seven workers continued taking their extra breaks to pray anyway, they were fired, and 14 others promptly resigned in protest.

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CAIR and its state-level affiliates often operate as key negotiators in such disputes, and have managed to forge resolutions in the past: When a meat plant in Greeley, Colorado fired 100 Muslim workers who staged a walkout over the company’s prayer policy during the Islamic holiday of Ramadan in 2008, CAIR reportedly worked to forge a compromise until the issue was “successfully resolved.”

This post was updated to include a statement from AmesburyTruth.