Columbus, Ohio: Muslim workers fired for praying at work

An advocacy group says 18 Muslims have filed federal complaints against a Westerville-based logistics company, saying they were fired for praying at work.

Exel Inc., a subsidiary of Deutsche Post DHL, is accused of denying requests to adjust break times to accommodate prayer or to allow employees to take unpaid prayer breaks, according to the Columbus chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The council said it filed the complaints on behalf of the workers with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission yesterday.

Practicing Muslims are obliged to pray five times daily at mandated times.

The workers, who are Somali, likely would have prayed twice during work hours for about 10 minutes each time, said Jennifer Nimer, legal director for the Ohio branch of the council.

The employees worked at a warehouse on the Northeast Side, and allowing them to adjust their two daily breaks to fit prayer times would not have caused the company undue hardship, Nimer said. She said previous managers had made modifications to the break schedule, but new supervisors refused to.

“They wouldn’t even discuss any type of accommodation. They said, ‘You pray at a scheduled break, and that’s it,’” Nimer said. “It’s not accommodating when they were aware the break times made them miss the prayer.”

Company officials had not yet seen the complaints but said in a statement that Exel is dedicated to ensuring that workplaces are sensitive and respectful to employees’ religious and ethnic practices.

“The allegations … neither conform nor align with the way we do business in any of our sites,” the statement said. “Rather, Exel goes to great lengths to ensure employees’ religious practices are understood and, as appropriate, accommodated. In both policy and practice, Exel has established a culture in which discrimination of any kind is not tolerated.”

The workers also allege that they were initially denied access to the company’s human-resources department. One manager is accused of telling employees to pray in a restroom so they wouldn’t be seen, according to the council.

The council said the firing of some workers prompted a Feb. 8 meeting at which a manager told other employees that policies would not be changed. Additional employees were subsequently fired when they insisted they had a right to accommodations, the council said.

Nimer said the allegations come on the heels of complaints filed last year by two other fired Exel employees, both Muslim. One man said he was fired after requesting the continuance of prior accommodations that allowed him to attend mandatory Friday prayer services. Another said he was fired for praying while on a break.

“This company has a history of discriminating against Muslims, especially Muslims of Somali origin,” Nimer said. “This type of blatant discrimination cannot be tolerated.”

Columbus Dispatch, 27 March 2013

See also “CAIR-Ohio files Muslim workers’ bias complaints against DHL subsidiary”, CAIR press release, 26 March 2013