Cargill Meat Solutions, headquartered in Wichita, Kan., has agreed to pay $1.5 million to resolve charges of discrimination investigated by the Denver Field Office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency announced today.
According to the agency, the commission found reasonable cause to believe Somali, African and Muslim employees were harassed, denied their requests for prayer breaks, and fired from their employment at Cargill's Fort Morgan, Colo., beef processing plant.
In their charges, the workers alleged wrongful termination based on discrimination and the wrongful revocation of a religious accommodation policy that permitted them to take short breaks to perform their obligatory prayers in accordance with their sincerely-held beliefs.
While Cargill does not accept the basis of these commission's complaints, it decided to settle the matter out of court to avoid a protracted legal proceeding and provide all parties with a path forward.
The agreement includes a financial settlement of $1.5 million for the 138 terminated employees, inclusive of attorneys’ fees and costs. This is an average of about $10,900 per person.
In conjunction with this agreement, Cargill has reaffirmed its commitment to continue to allow Muslim workers to take short breaks to perform their obligatory prayers. Cargill’s religious accommodation policy takes into account key business requirements, such as employee and food safety, and production line needs, according to a company release.
“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.”
Together with a financial settlement for the individuals involved, Cargill will continue to conduct mandatory training for all management and hourly personnel at its Colorado facility explaining 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.
“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,” stated 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."