Lawsuit Alleging JBS Discrimination Against Muslim Employees Will Proceed
A federal lawsuit that alleges Greeley-based meatpacking company JBS USA engaged in wide-scale discrimination against Muslim employees is heading to trial.
U.S. District Court Judge Philip Brimmer denied the company’s request for summary judgment in a case that stems back to 2008 when the company’s Greeley beef plant fired Somali Muslim employees who were requesting breaks be scheduled to coincide with prayer time during Ramadan, a month of the Islamic calendar that requires daytime fasting and prayer.
In 2010, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed two lawsuits against the company, one in Colorado and one in Nebraska. The Colorado lawsuit accuses the company of engaging in a pattern of religious discrimination. The Nebraska case was decided in JBS USA’s favor.
Brimmer’s ruling quotes interviews with union representatives and Muslim employees involved in the 2008 terminations. Supervisors even went as far as patrolling bathrooms to catch Muslim employees taking unscheduled breaks to pray in stalls, according to Brimmer’s ruling.
The EEOC says JBS management’s behavior was against the law, specifically Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on a religious basis. That same law requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to their employees' religious beliefs and practices, that is unless it would cause the company an undue hardship.
JBS claims the 2008 firings were a one-time event, and that the incident didn’t represent a wider pattern of religious discrimination. Since then, company representatives say they’ve taken steps to accommodate Muslim employees, providing prayer rooms in its Greeley facility, offering the choice of switching shifts, and allowing employees to pray before or after their shifts, and during scheduled breaks.
Those accommodations don’t go far enough for the EEOC. The agency wants the company to rearrange a break time to coincide with prayer time, and to allow Muslim employees to leave their posts for a ten to 15 minute period at their specific prayer time, considered an “unscheduled” break.
“We believe we treat all our employees equally irrespective of their religious affiliation, their race, their gender,” says JBS USA spokesman Cameron Bruett.
In the seven years since the 2008 firings Bruett says the company’s Greeley plant hasn’t had any workplace disruptions during Ramadan.
The court’s decision to deny the JBS motion means the case will now be heading to a full trial. That could take four to six weeks for the two parties to argue their case.