EEOC Sues on Behalf of Nearly 200 Somali Muslims Who Claim Religious Harassment, Termination From Meatpacking Plants

Discrimination and harassment complaints from nearly 200 Somali Muslims against a meat processing corporation have caught the attention of federal employment attorneys who blasted the company in joint lawsuits from two states.

The employees -- 85 from Nebraska, 89 from Colorado -- allege religious and ethnic intolerance so severe that the workers were taunted with slurs and had meat and bones hurled at them before dozens were fired from plants in both states during Ramadan 2008.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) told the number of affected employees could eventually swell by hundreds as it continues the investigation.

The employees, mostly political refugees, had requested to management at both JBS Swift & Co. plants that they be allowed to alter their break times to observe Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, and use their bathroom and meal breaks to pray, according to the EEOC.

What they were met with, the dual lawsuits allege, were taunts and a refusal to comply with their requests even though such accommodations had already been included in the workers' collective bargaining agreements.

"Managers, supervisors and other employees regularly threw blood, meat and bones at the Somali and Muslim employees," the Colorado suit alleges, going on to describe graffiti with the words "F**k Somalians,," "F**k Muslims" and "F**k Mohammed."

JBS Swift could not be reached for comment after multiple attempts.

The harassment came to a head, both EEOC districts claim, during Ramadan 2008 when dozens of employees were terminated. JBS Swift, which is a subsidiary of a Brazilian multinational, claims they all walked off the job, according to the lawsuits, filed late Monday in U.S. District Courts in Colorado and Nebraska.

Barbara Seely, the EEOC's St. Louis regional attorney, who is handling the Nebraska complaint, declined to offer specifics on the terminations, only saying that they did leave the premises of the Grand Island plant.

But for the Greeley, Colo., plant, the JBS Swift headquarters, the EEOC offered a timeline of events that, they say, left many of the refugees without jobs.

Lawsuit: Water Fountains Shut Off, Muslim Employees Fired

JBS Swift allowed the Muslim employees to alter their meal breaks for two days in order to accommodate the month-long Ramadan, according to the Colorado court documents. But on the third day, a Friday, the meal break was reverted back to its original schedule.

When the Muslims tried to leave for their break, "Swift stationed management employees at all of the exists and refused to allow the Muslim employees to leave," the lawsuit claims.

The water fountains, the EEOC alleges, were also shut off and marked with the same red tags typically reserved for rotten or spoiled meat, meaning employees who had been fasting all day could not get a drink of water.

When the meal break came, "Swift management told the Muslim employees to go outside the facility," the document reads. "When the Muslim employees attempted to reenter the facility at the conclusion of the break, Swift told them they could not return to work."

That following Monday, the lawsuit alleges, Swift informed the union that the employees who left the plant had engaged in "unauthorized work stoppage" and were indefinitely suspended.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...