$1.5M settlement for Muslim workers fired in prayer dispute
DENVER (AP) — A big U.S. meatpacker has agreed to pay $1.5 million to 138 Somali-American Muslim workers who were fired from their jobs at a Colorado plant after they were refused prayer breaks, a federal anti-discrimination agency said today.
Cargill Meat Solutions, a division of Minnesota-based agribusiness company Cargill Corp., also agreed to train managers and hourly workers in accommodating Muslim employees' prayer breaks at its Fort Morgan beef processing plant, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said.
Wichita, Kan.-based Cargill denies wrongdoing but agreed to settle to avoid further litigation, the federal agency said. The dispute dates back to the firings of the workers in late 2016 after management rescinded policies allowing Muslim employees to take short breaks for prayer.
In 2017, the agency found the workers had been harassed and discriminated against for protesting the unannounced policy change that denied them opportunities for obligatory prayer. Hundreds of Somali-Americans work at the plant in Fort Morgan, northeast of Denver.
In a related announcement, a Teamsters union local that was supposed to represent the workers will pay them $153,000 to settle discrimination complaints.
The federal agency said it determined that Teamsters Local Union No. 455, based in Denver and in Fort Morgan, failed to advocate for the Muslim workers in their dispute with Cargill and even harassed them because of their race, religion and national origin. The workers were dues-paying union members.
Union officials denied wrongdoing. But the local unit agreed to pay the workers, undergo training in handling grievances, and publicize employee rights to be free of discrimination based on race or national origin.
"In its capacity as a bargaining representative for its members, labor unions have an obligation to represent their members regardless of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability," Elizabeth Cadle, the federal agency's regional district director, said in a statement.