JBS religious discrimination case heads to trial

by Erica Shaffer
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DENVER – A Colorado federal judge in a discrimination lawsuit filed against JBS USA denied the company’s motion for summary judgment clearing the way for a trial. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued JBS USA for religious discrimination and retaliation against Muslim employees.

The case will be tried in two phases. In Phase 1, the EEOC will argue that JBS engaged in a “pattern or practice” of denying Muslim employees religious accommodations, discriminatory discipline and discharge, and retaliation. The agency claims JBS refused to allow Muslim employees to pray according to their religious tenets. The lawsuit also claims that “JBS retaliated against Muslim employees by disciplining them or firing them when they requested their evening break be moved so that they could break their fast and pray closer to sundown during Ramadan in 2008.” Ramadan is a holy month in the Islamic faith which requires daytime fasting.

JBS won a similar case involving the company’s Grand Island, Neb. Plant in October 2014.

In denying JBS’s motion for summary judgment, US District Judge Philip Brimmer rejected the company’s argument relating to the alleged undue burden of accommodating the workers.

“The court observed that religious accommodation might be accomplished through a combination of measures, rather than considering each proposed measure individually and rejecting it as insufficient if it could not alone resolve the problem,” the EEOC explained.

Brimmer also rejected claims that an accommodation “must completely eliminate all conflict between work rules and all the various individuals’ religious beliefs …”

The court also found six different potentially discriminatory decisions made during Ramadan in 2008, including the “en masse” firings of a group of Somali Muslim employees, which could lead a fact finder to conclude that discrimination was JBS’s standard operating procedure at that time.

The EEOC estimates the trial will last four to six weeks. The case is EEOC v. JBS USA, LLC, d/b/a JBS Swift & Co., 10-cv-02103-PAB-KLM. JBS USA is a unit of Sao Paulo, Brazil-based JBS SA.

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