Cargill has denied any wrongdoing.
“We have had a longstanding commitment to inclusion and diversity, and respect for religious freedom and expression,” the company said in a statement. “We do what is required by law and go further to provide additional religious accommodation in our US locations. We are disappointed by, and disagree with, how the EEOC interprets what occurred at Fort Morgan in 2015.”
The EEOC’s findings set the stage for a lawsuit if Cargill and the workers can’t reach a settlement agreement. Regarding reconciliation, Cargill said “We look forward to continuing a dialogue with EEOC to better understand the basis for their initial determination.”
In March 2016, lawyers filed federal complaints of employment discrimination on behalf of about 150 Somali Muslims working at Cargill Meat Solutions’ Fort Morgan processing plant. The complaint stems from an incident in December 2015 when about 200 Muslim employees walked off the job, claiming they were not allowed to take breaks to pray. Cargill denied the allegations at that time, saying the company’s religious accommodation policy had not changed.
The company explained that the Fort Morgan plant has a “reflection area” to accommodate employees, but noted that “accommodation is not guaranteed every day and is dependent on a number of factors that can, and do, change from day to day. This has been clearly communicated to all employees.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) welcomed the Commission’s findings.
“We welcome these determinations and hope they will ultimately lead to justice and compensation for all the workers who have suffered because they were denied their constitutionally-guaranteed right to reasonable religious accommodation in the workplace,” Lena Masri, director of CAIR National Litigation, said in a statement.
CAIR alleged that Cargill supervisors engaged in hostile and retaliatory actions against the workers that included:
- blocking the doors to the room in which Muslim employees prayed;
- interrogating Somali-American Muslim employees after bathroom breaks to ensure that they had not also prayed during their break; and
- telling Somali-American Muslim employees that they could go home and pray or stay and work.
Cargill said the allegations made by CAIR are false.
“Cargill has provided religious accommodation to Fort Morgan employees for many years and established designated reflection areas there in 2009,” the company said. “Our policy has not changed and, based upon the facts, we are confident in our position. Cargill employees at Fort Morgan come from many countries, and everyone working at the plant has access to religious accommodation under our policy.”