Muslim Prayer Dispute

Fardowsa Anshur, right, voices her anger during a gathering at Lincoln Park in Greeley on Sept. 9, 2008, after they received the news that the company would not accommodate the Muslim employees with a sunset break for prayer. JBS Swift & Co., will pay up to $5.5 million to settle a lawsuit that claimed the meatpacking company discriminated against Muslim employees at its beef processing plant in northern Colorado.

JBS will pay up to $5.5 million to employees who accused the food processing company of discrimination as part of a settlement that will end yearslong litigation brought by a federal agency, lawyers for the agency wrote in court documents filed Wednesday.

The settlement details were filed in federal court Wednesday, bringing to conclusion a sprawling court fight that started in August 2010, according to court records.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accused JBS of discriminating against Somali Muslim employees at its Greeley facility in "a pattern or practice of harassment and discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin and religion."

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Under the agreement, JBS will pay as much as $5.5 million to its employees and will make all employees who brought complaints eligible for rehire.

It will require a broad list of changes and agreements from the company, including a requirement that managers and other employees in positions of power immediately correct any discriminatory actions; provide Muslim employees with "reasonable accommodations for their sincerely held religious beliefs and practices"; and an agreement to not discriminate or retaliate against employees.

Neither JBS nor the commission immediately responded to a request for comment.

In its various legal filings, the commission accused the company of harassment and treating the Somali employees "differently in the terms and conditions of their employment, including by disciplining and/or discharging Plaintiffs/Intervenors because of their race, color, national origin, religion and/or in retaliation for complaints of Defendant’s unlawful employment practices and/or complaints for failure to accommodate religion," according to an amended complaint filed in 2011. 

Specifically, the employees -- some of whom had left the company -- alleged that JBS retaliated against them for raising concerns about harassment.

In 2008, during the holy month of Ramadan, in which Muslims fast during the day, JBS managers allegedly placed managers at the Greeley facility's exits and prevented Muslim employees from drinking from water fountains or washing themselves before prayer.

Some employees, after leaving the facility to pray, were not allowed back in. Others were allegedly harassed.

One employee alleged that a supervisor gave her five minutes or fewer for bathroom breaks, a too-brief length of time for the worker to remove protective gear and use the restroom. 

That worker's "supervisor frequently denies her the right to use the bathroom at all, and she is forced to remain at her workstation despite the fact that she urgently needs to use the restroom," the commission alleged in 2011. 

Allegations brought by other employees describe similar behavior, which, they contend, was because of the employees' religion and race.

One alleged not being able to leave a station to clean her knife, despite other, non-Somali employees being afforded that opportunity. Her knife became duller, which made her work harder and resulted in a shoulder injury, the commission wrote.

That same employee asked to see a nurse after cutting herself; a supervisor allegedly denied the request and said he "didn't care because he has already cut off his own finger."

The terms of the settlement require JBS to support employees' alleging discrimination; promptly investigate any allegations of discrimination; provide translators for employees who whose primary language isn't English; a 24-hour hotline to report misconduct; and provide regular training to employees for at least the next two years, among other requirements.

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