Cargill Meat to Pay $1.5M to Settle Religious, Race Bias Charges (1)

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By Patrick Dorrian

Cargill Meat Solutions will pay $1.5 million and provide managers and employees with anti-discrimination training to resolve allegations that it denied prayer breaks to and harassed 138 Muslim, Somali, and African workers.

The agreement was announced Sept. 14 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal job rights agency where the workers went to complain about the alleged religious, race, and national origin bias. An investigation by the EEOC found reasonable cause to believe the workers’ charges were founded, the agency said in its statement announcing the pact. Cargill Meat doesn’t agree with the EEOC’s findings but agreed to settle the dispute to avoid litigation, the commission said.

“Providing our employees with religious accommodation is an important part of engaging and supporting our employees, and our policy has remained consistent for more than 10 years,” Cargill Meat President Brian Sikes said in a Sept. 14 statement.

“We applaud Cargill for working with the charging parties and the EEOC to reach a meaningful resolution enabling all parties to move forward,” EEOC Phoenix District Director Elizabeth Cadle said in the agency’s statement.

The EEOC has issued guidance advising employers of their duty to provide religious accommodations to Muslim workers so they can meet their prayer obligations during the workday. If normal work breaks don’t provide sufficient time for Muslim workers to pray, employer still must explore other potential work adjustments, including flexible scheduling, when feasible, the EEOC says. Combating bias against Muslim workers and people of Middle Eastern descent is one of the EEOC’s top enforcement priorities.

Other companies that have faced or are facing similar allegations include meatpacker JBS USA LLC and snowblower manufacturer Ariens Co.

Separate Pact With Union

In a related settlement also announced by the EEOC Sept. 14, Teamsters Local Union No. 455 agreed to pay $153,000 for allegedly failing to fairly advocate on behalf of the workers. The EEOC said it found reasonable cause to believe the union retaliated against the workers and that its actions contributed to the hostile work environment they experienced.

“In its capacity as a bargaining representative for its members, labor unions have an obligation to represent their members regardless of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability,” Cadle said in the EEOC’s Sept. 14 statement announcing the settlement with the union.

The union similarly disputed the agency’s findings, the agency said.

A Teamsters representative wasn’t immediately available to comment on the agreement.

CAIR Helped Workers File Charges

The Council on American-Islamic Relations helped the workers file their charges with the EEOC. The charges alleged that the workers were fired based on their race and national origin and that Cargill Meat illegally revoked their permission to take short prayer breaks to accommodate their religious observance.

The Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization lauded the resolution of the workers’ charges.

“We commend Cargill for reaching this settlement with 138 of its former employees and for valuing the religious diversity of its workers,” Lena Masri, CAIR’s national litigation director, said in Sept.14 statement. “We applaud this settlement, which represents a mutually agreeable resolution of this case, and we welcome Cargill’s commitment to accommodating the religious needs of Muslim workers and workers of other faith backgrounds.”

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