MINNEAPOLIS (August 22, 2011) — For the second year in a row, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is calling on Swedish appliance manufacturer Electrolux to grant legally-mandated religious accommodation to Muslim employees at its St. Cloud plant during the Ramadan fast.
In 2010, CAIR-MN assisted a Muslim employee in filing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the company after Electrolux refused to allow Muslim employees to break their Ramadan fast on time.
As a result of the 2010 complaint, the EEOC immediately mediated an agreement which allowed employees a 30-minute shifting lunch break to complete religious rituals and break their fast.
This year, Electrolux reduced the length of the lunch break for employees, and Muslim employees no longer have sufficient time to break their fast and complete prayers after sunset. Electrolux does not permit its employees to consume food on the production floor, and scheduled breaks are the only time during which Muslim employees are able to carry out their Ramadan requirements.
Many of the Muslim employees are afraid to lose their jobs by going on the record with a complaint. All of the almost 150 Muslim employees and hundreds of other employees take their 20-minute break at the same time, thereby preventing Muslim workers from having the time and space to make ritual ablution, eat and pray. The Muslim employees tell CAIR-MN that time constraints force them to choose between eating and praying, with most choosing to pray and delay eating until after their shift ends at midnight.
Electrolux has refused to engage with employees and union stewards who oppose the new break schedule. Employees submitted a signed petition to the EEOC outlining how the new break schedule does not reasonably accommodate their religious needs. The petition was shared with Electrolux last week. CAIR-MN is now representing more than a dozen employees in filing another EEOC complaint against the company.
“It is shocking that one year later, after an EEOC-mediated resolution, Electrolux is still unwilling to provide reasonable religious accommodation to its employees,” said CAIR-MN Civil Rights Director Taneeza Islam. “CAIR-MN will continue to advocate for the employees and ensure that corporate arrogance does not interfere with obeying workplace religious accommodation laws.”
Ramadan is the month on the Islamic lunar calendar during which Muslims abstain from food, drink and other sensual pleasures from break of dawn to sunset. Muslims break the fast each day with food and drink immediately after sunset.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibit employers from discriminating against individuals based on their religion. Employers are also required to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of their employees or prospective employees unless an “undue hardship” would prevent them from doing so.
In 2003, a similar complaint was filed with the EEOC against Electrolux on behalf of 165 Somali Muslim workers after the company subjected them to unlawful employment discrimination denying prayer in the workplace.
That complaint was resolved after Electrolux agreed to allow Muslim employees to pray at work. The company also provided a Somali translator at specified occasions, translated policies and procedures into Somali, provided diversity training, and made donations to refugee services.
CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.