Chris Serres, Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul), September 10, 2008
In a landmark settlement that could change the way Muslims are treated in the workplace, St. Cloud-based Gold’n Plump Inc. has agreed to allow Somali workers short prayer breaks and the right to refuse handling pork at its poultry processing facilities.
The federally mediated agreement is among the first in the nation that requires employers to accommodate the Islamic prayer schedule and the belief, held by many strict Muslims, that the Qur’an prohibits the touching and eating of pork products.
The agreement follows a year-long examination by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and a class-action lawsuit brought in October 2006 on behalf of nine Somali immigrants who worked at Gold’n Plump’s poultry processing plants in Cold Spring, Minn., and Arcadia, Wis.
The settlement will include an undisclosed sum of money for some employees; and some workers may receive new offers of employment at Gold’n Plump.
More details of the settlement, including how exactly the prayers will be accommodated, will be disclosed in the next two weeks.
This spring, six Muslim women who worked at a Mission Foods tortilla factory in New Brighton said they were fired after they refused to wear a uniform that includes pants, which are considered men’s clothing—and improper—in their home country.
The disputes have ignited debates about whether employers were targeting Muslims, or whether the workers were making unreasonable demands.
The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 says employers must accommodate workers’ religious beliefs, so long as the requests are “reasonable” and do not create “undue hardship” for the employer.