CAIR defends prayer rights of Muslim employees

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) today announced that more than a dozen Muslim employees it represented have won a favorable ruling by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) in a complaint filed against H.J. Heinz Company subsidiary, Dianne’s Gourmet Desserts, in Le Center, Minn. CAIR-MN said the employees received a “reasonable cause” determination from the EEOC on all allegations of discrimination, including failure to accommodate religious practices and retaliation.

In December 2010, Muslim employees at the Heinz subsidiary were terminated from their jobs for requesting legally protected prayer accommodation. They were forcibly removed and local law enforcement was called to ensure they left the premises. The company had created a new policy that abolished a break time used by Muslim employees to pray their evening (Maghrib) prayer. The employees were prohibited from praying outside of the newly implemented work breaks, which did not coincide with prayer times. Performance of the five daily prayers is a mandatory and essential part of life for Muslims.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibit employers from discriminating against employees or prospective employees on the basis of religion. Title VII also requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of their employees. Courts have been clear in articulating that each individual employee who has a bona fide religious belief must be reasonably accommodated by an employer.

CAIR-MN negotiated with Dianne’s Gourmet Desserts to rehire the employees in January 2011, however the issue of discrimination still prevailed and was investigated by the EEOC. CAIR-MN will be entering in the settlement phase with Dianne’s Gourmet Desserts to remedy their illegal acts. “Employers need to understand their legal obligation to accommodate bona fide religious practices in the workplace for all employees,” said CAIR-MN Civil Rights Director Taneeza Islam. “We thank the EEOC for its diligent investigation and commitment in mandating religious accommodation on employers.”

CAIR press release, 10 August 2011