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Muslim Workers Receive $1.7M In Settlement With Cargill Over Prayer Breaks

Luke Runyon
Harvest Public Media file photo

Cargill Meat Solutions and a union have agreed to pay more than $1.7 million dollars to settle a case alleging that Somali-American Muslim plant workers were wrongfully fired in a dispute over prayer breaks.

The settlement, which was announced Friday morning, came years after the late 2015 dispute with Somali-American Muslim workers at Cargill’s beef meatpacking plant in Fort Morgan, Colorado.

Cargill Meat Solutions, which employs 155,000 people, said in a statement that while it did not accept the complaints, it had decided to settle in order to “avoid protracted legal proceedings and provide all parties with a path forward.”

A small group of workers alleged that, a plant supervisor told them in December 2015 they could no longer take their regular prayer break during their shift on the cutting floor — a practice that’d been allowed for years. Harvest Public Media previously reported that the employees said plant supervisors told them there’d been a change in policy, which Cargill officials denied.

Later that month, nearly 200 workers protested that alleged policy change by not showing up to work for three days. Many of those employees were fired, according to law firm Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sided with the Somali-American workers in their 2017 federal complaint.  Amy Burkholder is the field director for the EEOC's Denver office. She said news of the settlement as garnered national attention at a time with the country has become increasingly diverse. 

"People ... are becoming well aware of how they should be treated in the workplace and their rights in the workplace," she said. 

According to the EEOC, the settlement includes a $1.5 million payment to 138 former workers, as well as $153,000 from teamsters Local Union No. 455. The latter is due to accusations that the union failed to properly advocate for the Muslim workers and subjected them to retaliation and a hostile work environment.  

“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,” Cargill Meat Solutions president Brian Sikes said in Friday’s statement.

Lawyer Qusair Mohamedbhai with Rathod Mohamedbhai said in a statement that he applauds Cargill “for its ongoing efforts to consistently grant prayer requests to people of all faiths based on its longstanding policy and values.”

Follow Esther on Twitter: @estherhonig

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Esther Honig