Company will allow prayer breaks for Somalis

Company will allow prayer breaks for Somalis

Associated Press 

MINNEAPOLIS — Gold’n Plump Poultry Inc. has agreed to allow Somali
workers to take short prayer breaks and to refuse handling pork at the
St. Cloud-based company’s poultry processing facilities, under a
federally mediated settlement.

The agreement is among the first in the nation that requires
employers to accommodate the Islamic prayer schedule and the belief,
held by many strict Muslims, that the Quran prohibits the touching and
eating of pork products.

“For this group of Americans at this time in our nation’s history,
this is a very important outcome,” said Joe Snodgrass, a St. Paul
attorney who represented workers in the case.

A class-action lawsuit was brought in 2006 on behalf of nine Somali
immigrants who worked at Gold’n Plump plants in Cold Spring, Minn., and
Arcadia, Wis.

An attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity told the Star
Tribune  that both sides have reached a settlement in principle.

The lawsuit accused the Work Connection, an employment agency based
in St. Paul that hired workers for Gold’n Plump’s plants in Cold Spring
and Arcadia, of requiring Muslim applicants to sign a “pork
acknowledgment form,” in which they agreed to handle pork products. It
was alleged in the complaint that Somali workers who did not sign the
document were not hired.

Jeff Wold, vice president of the Work Connection, said his company
“categorically denied all the allegations of discrimination” and was
“happy to say that this case has been resolved.”

The settlement will include an undisclosed sum of money for some
employees. Some workers may receive new offers of employment at Gold’n

A spokesman for privately owned Gold’n Plump confirmed that an
agreement had been reached in principle and said in a statement that a
formal process must now begin to obtain final court approval for the
settlement. In a separate statement released Wednesday, Gold’n Plump
said the settlement includes an agreement that the company has not
admitted to any wrongdoing.

The company also said that the 10-minute breaks will take place at a
specific time and be given to all employees — including non-Muslims —
working in a portion of the plant.

The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 says employers must accommodate
workers’ religious beliefs, so long as the requests are “reasonable”
and do not create “undue hardship” for the employer.

But the vague wording of the act has left much room for
interpretation. Some employers, especially manufacturers, have argued
that frequent prayer breaks disrupt work flow and reduce productivity.