Cargill to Pay $1.5 Million Settlement to Fired Muslim Packing Staff
A settlement has been reached between Cargill Meat Solutions and fired Somali-American Muslim workers in relation to a wrongful termination case.
Charges of discrimination were being investigated by the Denver Field Office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in relation to 138 Somali-American Muslim employees being fired from Cargill's Fort Morgan, Colo., beef processing plant.
It is alleged that the employees were harassed and denied requests for prayer breaks.
Cargill does not accept the findings by EEOC, however the company opted to settle out of court the former packing plant staffers to avoid an extended legal process. The settlement was announced by Cargill, along with Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) who were representing the former employees.
Under the settlement Cargill will pay the 138 former staffers $1.5 million, inclusive of attorneys’ fees and costs. Cargill also plans to reaffirm its commitment to allowing Muslim workers to take short breaks for prayers.
“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,” said Brian Sikes, president of Cargill Meat Solutions.
The confirmation of Cargill to continue recognizing employee rights under Title VII to be free from discrimination based on their race, national origin, retaliation, and their right to be accommodated for their sincerely held religious beliefs was welcomed by EEOC.
“We applaud Cargill for working with the charging parties and the EEOC to reach a meaningful resolution enabling all parties to move forward,” says EEOC Phoenix District Director Elizabeth Cadle.
The attorneys representing the former Cargill workers were satisfied with the settlement and are glad to see the company moving forward with allowing religious freedom in the workplace.
“We commend Cargill for reaching this settlement with 138 of its former employees and for valuing the religious diversity of its workers,” says CAIR National Litigation Director Lena Masri. “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.”
“We are gratified with the settlement reached for the 138 former Cargill employees that we represented in this proceeding and applaud the company for its ongoing efforts to consistently grant prayer requests to people of all faiths based on its longstanding policy and values,” says Qusair Mohamedbhai of Denver law firm Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC. “We appreciate the collaborative efforts of Cargill and Cargill’s commitment to continue to communicate its longstanding prayer accommodation practices.”
In December 2015, nearly 200 workers at the Cargill packing plant in Fort Morgan walked off the job in protest of having prayer breaks. Following the protest more than 150 Muslim workers were reported to be fired at the plant. Cargill later offered to rehire some of the employees after updating its termination policy.
At the time of the policy update Cargill Beef President John Keating said the company’s action was reasonable.
“The terminations at Fort Morgan appear to be based on a misunderstanding, or misinformation, about a perceived change in our religious accommodation policy that did not occur. Allegations that we were not going to allow prayer any longer are false. The result is that nearly 150 people found themselves in violation of our attendance policy and we had no alternative to termination. This change will provide for an orderly and expeditious reapplication process for people seeking an opportunity to potentially fill vacant positions at our beef plants,” said Keating in January 2016.