Somalis allege discrimation at Cold Spring poultry plant

(AP)- Nine Somali immigrant employees at poultry processor Gold'n Plump Poultry Inc. alleged in a federal lawsuit that they were discriminated against because of their race and their religion at the company's Cold Spring plant.

The group alleges that the St. Cloud-based company would not permit them short breaks during the day to pray. The Muslim faith, the lawsuit says, requires five prayers a day at times defined by position of the sun.

While the company did allow the employees to take limited numbers of restroom breaks, Khadija Jama of St. Cloud alleged she was followed into the restroom by a supervisor to make sure that she did not pray there.

She said whites at the Cold Spring plant did not get the same treatment when they went to the restroom.

The lawsuit also claims that the company was more likely to force Somalis than whites to work the night shift and do the least desirable jobs in the factory. Whites, the lawsuit claims, were more likely to get promotions than Somalis.

Joe Snodgrass, attorney for the Somalis, said the case was filed in federal court in Minneapolis on Friday.

He asked the court for both compensatory and punitive damages, and asked the judge to order the company to provide "equal employment opportunites for all applicants and employees." The lawsuit does not specify dollar figures.

In a statement Monday, Peggy Brown, director of human resources, said Gold'n Plump respects the religious beliefs of all employees and strives "to balance their religious practices with the realities of a manufacturing line."

Brown said Gold'n Plump has made accommodations since 2003 to its Muslim employees in an effort to provide them with opportunities to pray. She said the company announced further changes last week, before it became aware of the lawsuit, "that we believe provide yet more opportunity for observance of Muslim prayer."

She said Gold'n Plump was under no obligation to do so, and added that "modifications of this nature affect and possibly disrupt the lives and schedules of other employees."

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