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Meatpacker Prayer Dispute Among Rising Complaints of Religious Bias

Posted Oct 16, 2008 9:29 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Complaints of religious bias in the workplace are increasing as employees become more open about their faith.

More than 4,500 religious bias complaints were filed last year with federal, state and local agencies, a 15 percent increase, the Wall Street Journal reports. In the last 15 years, complaints of religious bias in the workplace have more than doubled.

Reed Russell, a counsel for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, told the newspaper that religious bias complaints account for only about 5 percent of workplace discrimination claims, but the number is rising faster than race or gender claims.

The issues played out in a recent dispute at meatpacking plants in Colorado and Nebraska owned by the U.S. unit of Brazilian company JBS SA, the story says. The company fired about 200 Muslim Somalis who walked off the job because they were not allowed a break to pray at sunset.

Some of the workers have filed claims with the EEOC. The EEOC issued new guidelines in July intended to clarify when employers have to accommodate religious requests, but JBS official Doug Schult told the newspaper the standards are still murky.

"We spent months trying to figure it out," said Schult, JBS' head of employee and labor relations.

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