Muslim employees file EEOC complaint with Electrolux

Two Muslim workers at the Electrolux plant in St. Cloud have filed complaints with the Employee Equal Opportunity Commission saying the appliance manufacturer has ignored requests to accommodate Muslim employees who will observe the fasting holiday Ramadan during most of August.

One of the workers, Ahmed Said, has worked for Electrolux since 2002. He said the company used to allow workers to bring snacks onto the production floor to break their fast at sunset. Said says a new policy prohibits all food on the production floor, which will pose problems for workers who fast.

"If you cannot keep up and you collapse, it is very dangerous," Said said. "If you get dizzy, for example, and you collapse over a machine, or on the floor, or a forklift it is very dangerous."

Said says nearly 400 employees who work the evening shift at Electrolux are Muslim.

A solution will be presented to the union representing production employees and is expected to be finalized this week, said Tony Evans, Electrolux's Vice President of Communications in North America.

"As a matter of employee safety, Electrolux does not permit food in the production area of our plants," Evans said in an email. "However, this does not mean that an accommodation cannot be achieved."

Evans said the solution, "reasonably accommodates its employees' religious beliefs without jeopardizing their safety or the plant's operating needs," but did not elaborate further.

This is the third request to a federal agency to investigate complaints of racial and religious discrimination against Muslims in St. Cloud.

The U.S. Department of Education is currently investigating the St. Cloud school district over complaints that administrators ignored racial harassment against its Muslim and Somali students.

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations recently asked the FBI to investigate a recent vandalism incident targeting a Somali-owned grocery store in St. Cloud. An unknown individual spray-painted "GO HOME" in large red letters across the business. Advocates with the civil rights group believe the vandalism should not be treated as speech, but rather as a hate crime.

CAIR-MN assisted Said with his EEOC complaint. Advocates said Electrolux officials were unresponsive to letters that attempted to help negotiate an agreement between the company and its employees.

"It's very rare that employers completely ignore our requests," said CAIR-MN Civil Rights Director Taneeza Islam, who said she's surprised Electrolux wasn't responsive. "We understand there might be over 200 employees that work on the second shift that are Muslim, that are Somali and Muslim, and that are affected by this new policy."

Islam says she hopes the issue will be resolved before Ramadan begins.

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. The laws also require employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of their employees or prospective employees unless an "undue hardship" would prevent them from doing so.

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