Commission Applauds Employer Cooperation, Commitment to Religious Diversity
ST. CLOUD, Minn. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Electrolux Group today announced the voluntary resolution of a major religious accommodation case filed under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act on behalf of 165 Somali workers who were allegedly subjected to unlawful employment discrimination based on their religion and national origin. Electrolux is the world's largest producer of appliances and equipment for kitchen, cleaning and outdoor use. Its factory in St. Cloud produces food freezers for sale throughout the United States.
The case, initiated by a charge filing with the EEOC by the Somali Community Center in Minneapolis, is being hailed by the Commission as a prime example of how employers should work cooperatively with the federal agency when subjected to a Charge of Discrimination. According to the charge filing, Electrolux was denying religious accommodations to Somali employees who are Muslim and treating them differently than similarly-situated Somali employees with regards to the terms and conditions of their employment.
Pursuant to the tenets of the Islamic faith, Muslims, male and female, must offer at least five daily prayers. Two of these prayers, the early morning prayer or Salatu-l-Fajr and the Sunset Prayer or Salatu-l-Maghrib must be observed within a restricted time period of between one and two hours.
Muslim employees of the Electrolux Home Products plant in St. Cloud alleged that they were discriminated against due to their religious beliefs and observance when they were disciplined for using an unscheduled break traditionally offered to line employees on an as needed basis to observe their sunset prayer.
Electrolux expressed a desire to work with the EEOC to resolve the case in a manner that would respect the needs of its Muslim workers without creating a business hardship. The resulting agreement affords Muslim employees with an opportunity to observe their sunset prayer. It also provides for a Somali translator at specified occasions and for policies and procedures to be available in Somali. Diversity training will be held for corporate managers, line leaders and supervisors. The company will also make a monetary donation to the Islamic Center in St. Cloud, Minnesota to provide needed services to Somali families in the St. Cloud area.
"The voluntary resolution of this case represents a significant victory for both the employees and the employer," said Chester V. Bailey, Director of the EEOC's Milwaukee District Office, which has jurisdiction for Minnesota. "We applaud Electrolux for being a model employer and for going beyond what is legally required to create a better work environment for all of its employees. I am pleased that we were able to work cooperatively to resolve this matter in a fair, efficient, and cost-effective manner without the need for further investigation. The settlement is a win-win because it respects the important business interests of the employer as well as the faith-based interests of the Muslim employees. With the growth of religious diversity in the 21st century workplace, all employers should pay attention to the cooperative manner in which this case was resolved and view it as a model example of how to interact with the EEOC."
The Commission noted that over the past decade, religious discrimination charge filings with EEOC offices nationwide have increased by 85% from 1,388 in fiscal year 1992 to 2,572 in FY 2002.
The EEOC is the federal agency responsible for enforcing the federal statutes which prohibit employment discrimination including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, or religion, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which prohibits discrimination based on the existence or perception of a disability; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which prohibits discrimination against persons age 40 and over; and the Equal Pay Act (EPA), which prohibits wage discrimination based on sex. The EEOC's Minneapolis Are Office, located at 3330 South Second Avenue in Minneapolis Wisconsin is part of the EEOC's Milwaukee District Office which enforces federal anti-discrimination laws in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Further information about the Commission is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.