The US subsidiary of the world’s biggest meat processor is to pay $5.5m to settle charges of race, national origin, and religious discrimination brought by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the US District Court of Colorado.
The EEOC’s lawsuit, filed in 2010, alleged that JBS Swift & Company discriminated against Black, Muslim, and Somali immigrant employees at the company’s beef processing plant in Greeley, Colorado.
The EEOC said JBS denied religious accommodations to Muslim employees the ability to pray and harassed those who attempted to pray during scheduled breaks or even on bathroom breaks.
It was further alleged that during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 2008, JBS shut off water fountains at the facility preventing Muslim workers from drinking water after fasting all day and from washing before prayers.
In addition, the meat producer also denied Somali Muslim employees bathroom breaks and disciplined them more harshly than other employees, according to the EEOC’s suit.
The lawsuit also alleged JBS managers and other employees threw meat or bones at Black and Somali workers and referred to them in offensive terms. Racially offensive graffiti was also allegedly tolerated in restrooms at the Greeley facility, such as “Somalis are disgusting,” “F*** Somalians,” “F*** Muslims,” and “N*****.”
The alleged discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal law that prohibits workplace discrimination, including on the basis of race, national origin, or religion.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the US company does not admit any liability but will pay $5.5m to approximately 300 eligible employees, rehire those affected, and undertake actions to correct and prevent further discrimination.
Among these actions, JBS will review and update its anti-discrimination policies; maintain a 24-hour hotline for reporting discrimination; investigate employee complaints; support a diversity committee; and provide annual training to all employees on laws prohibiting discrimination.
The meat giant must also provide clean, quiet, and appropriate locations other than bathrooms for employees’ religious observances, including daily prayers, and must allow employees to use locker rooms or other locations that do not pose a safety risk for observation of their religious practices.
“This case serves as a reminder that systemic discrimination and harassment remain significant problems that we as a society must tackle,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A Burrows. “I am hopeful that the employer’s new policies, especially those providing for swift handling of harassment complaints and ensuring appropriate times and places for employees to practice their faith, are a step in the right direction.”
Mary Jo O’Neill of the EEOC’s Phoenix district office, said: “The discrimination alleged in this lawsuit was very serious and affected hundreds of employees over many years. Employers must consider and offer reasonable accommodations for their employees’ religious beliefs and practices except where it would cause an undue hardship, and employers cannot allow harassment based on race, religion, or national origin.”