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Complaint filed by Muslim employees says companies did not allow prayer time

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Nearly two dozen former employees who say they were fired by a Minnesota company for practicing their Muslim faith are now filing religious discrimination charges.

On Thursday, the state chapter of the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR-MN) held a news conference to announce a claim has been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of 21 Somali-American Muslim employees.

In an email news release, the council's Civil Rights Director, Amarita Singh, said Truth Hardware and Doherty Staffing Solutions violated the workers' constitutional rights by not allowing them time to pray during work.

"It is the constitutional right of these employees to have their religious practices accommodated, and companies need to start adapting their workplace policies accordingly," Singh said in the release.

How were their constitutional rights violated?

Followers of Islam pray five times a day.

According to the EEOC, the law requires employers to "reasonably accommodate an employee's religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the operations of the employer's business."

"The employees requested that they either be allowed to take breaks outside the scheduled time or that the break time be changed," Singh told MPR. "Most employees only needed one additional or a different time for their break during each shift changed."

CAIR said many of the Muslim employees were told to either comply with the break schedule or go home. Others were told to go home until the company was able to provide religious accommodations, but those employees were never contacted again.

Some employees were fired for spilling water on the bathroom floor, with the company claiming they had violated the bathroom policy, CAIR said.

Several former employees told MPR that praying on the job was not a problem at first. One employee said she told her employers when she was hired that she would need to take time from work to pray. But after a few weeks, the company told her she could no longer do it, MPR said.

Some of the employees are seeking lost wages, while others would be willing to take their jobs back if accommodations are made, the release said.

CAIR offers a booklet, called "An Employer's Guide to Islamic Religious Practices," to help corporate managers gain a better understanding of Islam and Muslims.

According to their website, Truth Hardware is an Owatonna-based hardware manufacturer. Doherty Staffing Solutions is a staffing agency – they have Truth Hardware job fairs listed on their website.

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