Meatpacking company JBS USA urged a Nebraska federal court to throw out what is left of a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission bias lawsuit brought on behalf of Somali Muslim workers who say they were discriminated against and harassed in the workplace. The meatpacking company says the workers claims have been short on specific facts.
The EEOC originally filed two lawsuits in federal court, alleging that JBS USA, LLC, doing business as meat packing company JBS Swift & Company, discriminated against a class of Somali and Muslim employees at its facilities in Greeley, Colorado (its headquarters facility), and Grand Island, Nebraska.
The suits allege that JBS Swift created a hostile work environment for its Somali and Muslim employees due to their race, national origin, and religion.
The complaints claim supervisors and coworkers threw blood, meat, and bones at the Muslim employees and called them offensive names.
The workers say there was also offensive graffiti in the company restrooms, which included comments such as “Somalis are disgusting,” and that supervisors and coworkers made comments to Somali employees such as “go back to your country.”
The EEOC contends that JBS Swift engaged in a pattern or practice of religious discrimination when it failed to reasonably accommodate its Muslim employees by refusing to allow them to pray according to their religious tenets.
The feds also allege that JBS Swift retaliated against the employees by terminating their employment when they requested that their evening break be moved so that they could break their fast and pray at sundown during the month of Ramadan, an Islamic holiday requiring a daytime fast from sunup to sundown.
Such conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This litigation originated from the filing multiple charges of discrimination with the EEOC.
The EEOC says it received 83 discrimination charges from employees at the Colorado facility and 85 from employees at the Nebraska facility alleging discrimination on the basis of religion, race, color or national origin.
“The issue of national origin and religious discrimination in the workplace has become more significant as more immigrants with different ethnic and religious backgrounds join our workforce,” said EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez. “The laws of this country prohibit harassment based on national origin, and mandate that employers accommodate employees’ religious practices so long as doing so does not create an undue burden on the employer.”
How It Began
JBS Swift says the company provided two paid rest periods and an unpaid meal period to its employees at its beef slaughter and fabrication facility. In addition, employees could request an unscheduled break to use the restroom. As a standard practice, it did not allow employees to leave the line other than for physical needs.
In 2008, during Ramadan, Somali employees requested that they be allowed to leave the production line for five minutes, one by one, to pray while someone covered for them on the line.
Because there was not enough time to relieve the approximately 200 Somalis within a ten-minute prayer window, and because the accommodation could create safety and quality issues, the request was denied.
As a result, a group of approximately 150 Somali Muslims went on “strike.” The company then offered to move up the meal break and shorten the shift for the remainder of Ramadan. The striking employees agreed and returned to work.
Incorrectly assuming that the company had given the Somali employees a raise, many of Swift's Hispanic employees then staged their own walkout.
In response, the company decided to return to its original meal break time and shift length. Upon learning of this, approximately 80 Somali employees left the facility and did not return. They were terminated the next day.
Alleging that Swift engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against Somali Muslim employees, the EEOC filed suit.