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Consent Decree Provides Muslims With Paid Prayer Time

Published by on November 13, 2008

The EEOC has announced that it has settled two religious discrimination lawsuits in Minnesota involving accommodating Muslim employees with paid prayer time.  More after the break. The EEOC press release is here.  Workplace Prof Blog has a post on the settlement here.  The settlement follows the recent release of the new section on religious discrimination to the EEOC […]

The EEOC has announced that it has settled two religious discrimination lawsuits in Minnesota involving accommodating Muslim employees with paid prayer time.  More after the break.

The EEOC press release is here.  Workplace Prof Blog has a post on the settlement here.  The settlement follows the recent release of the new section on religious discrimination to the EEOC Compliance Manual.  The section on accommodating prayer in the workplace can be found here.

The proposed consent decrees provide the following relief:

Under the decree preliminarily approved in the Gold’n Plump case, the employer will add a paid break during the second half of each shift which — in addition to a break early in the shift and lunch breaks otherwise required by applicable law — will accommodate the religious beliefs of Muslim employees who wish to pray during the course of the work day. The timing of the added break will fluctuate during the year so as to coordinate with the religious timing for Muslim prayers.

In addition to other related relief, Gold’n Plump will provide $215,000 in monetary relief to a class of Somali Muslims who claimed religious discrimination, including discharge and discipline. An additional $150,000 will be paid to class members under the consent decree entered in The Work Connection case. EEOC attorneys estimate that the total number of individuals receiving monetary relief in the cases after claims processing will be in the 40 to 80 range.

The decree in The Work Connection case has also been given preliminary approval and entered by the court. The EEOC had alleged in The Work Connection case that, in order to be referred for work at Gold’n Plump’s facilities in Cold Spring, Minn., and Arcadia, Wis., applicants were required to sign a form stating that they would not refuse to handle pork in the course of their jobs. In addition to stopping use of the “pork form,” The Work Connection will offer placement at Gold’n Plump to job seekers previously turned away for refusing to sign the form.

Religious accommodation cases raise many thorny issues of law and policy.  In the case discussed above, there is little question that the EEOC is making a public policy decision by pursuing this litigation and requesting the relief sought in the consent decrees.  While the EEOC is actively pursuing the types of claims outlined above to protect Muslim employees from alleged discrimination in the post-9/11 era, others complain that Muslims use their religious beliefs to justify discrimination against others (i.e. taxi drivers refusing to service customers with guide dogs or those carrying alcohol, also here).  There are certainly conflicting views on these issues (here and here, for example). 

There is no easy answer as to where to draw the line in these situations.  For purposes of the public discussion on the issue, however, it is apparent that the EEOC is pursuing a specific public policy agenda in litigating these cases — as shown in the EEOC General Counsel’s statement in the press release:  “Both of these cases reflect the EEOC’s determination, especially in this post-9/11 era, to be sensitive to the high level of religious diversity in the American labor force and to assure that all employers and employees do their best to accommodate our rich tapestry of religious beliefs and practices.” 

We will update the post with any additional commentary about the settlement.

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