Three Muslim workers at an Amazon warehouse in Minnesota accuse the company of discrimination and retaliation for denying them time and space to pray.
A federal complaint filed last week claims Amazon created a hostile work environment for the three black women from Somalia at its Shakopee warehouse.
One of the women claims she stopped taking breaks to perform ablutions before prayer, break her Ramadan fast, and even stopped going to the bathroom because she feared her rate of pay would be decreased or she’d be written up and face termination.
They allege Somali and East African employees were denied promotions and training that went to white workers and were assigned more difficult tasks, such as packing heavy items.
The women – referred to as ‘Ms. A, Ms. B, and Ms. C’ – say they were under pressure to meet certain quotas.
They claim that if they didn’t make a certain ‘rate’ of production they risked being punished for it.
Two of the women in the lawsuit still work at the company while one was constructively dismissed in December.
The plaintiffs also state they ‘noticed a campaign of retaliatory harassment’ after they participated in a rally regarding racial disparities and working conditions, the same month one of them was let go.
It was claimed by many of the December 14, 2018 rally participants that Amazon offered inadequate space and time for its Muslim workers to pray. However the women allege conditions have not improved since.
They claim employees who follow Islam could be punished simply because they attempted to observe their religious obligations to pray.
Ms B alleges in the lawsuit that she was written up when she fell short of her hourly packing target during Ramadan. It was despite her abstaining from food or drink throughout the daylight hours when there was not adequate air conditioning, the suit alleges.
On top of that they claim workers did not receive sufficient time during breaks to properly break their fasts during the Holy Month. The lawsuit states workers also reported being told by Amazon management to quit when they requested time off for Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that directly follows Ramadan.
‘Ms. B and Ms. C have repeatedly received more difficult and less favorable duty assignments since the protest. In an intimidation tactic, Ms. B has had her everyday conversations repeatedly video recorded by her supervisors. All three of our clients have received pretextual write-ups, which are a step towards terminations,’ a letter from Muslim Advocates states.
‘When our clients attempted to report the improper write-ups to management or to Human Resources, Amazon has uniformly failed to adequately investigate or address their claims. And in retaliation for reporting the initial retaliation, Ms. C even received an additional retaliatory writeup the day she was told that the investigation into her claims had yielded no results.
‘Amazon’s message to Somali workers has been clear: Since they protested Amazon’s discriminatory actions, Amazon management would now create an environment so harassing and hostile that they would be forced to quit.’
They point out that Under Title VII, not only is it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers in decisions of hiring and firing, but it’s also the case for assignments and promotions within a company.
Referring to Title VII, Muslim Advocates points out the obligation on employers to ‘reasonably accommodate the religious practices of their employees’.
A lawyer for Muslim Advocates said while many employees hail from East Africa, the vast majority of managers at the warehouse were white.
The letter is signed by Racial Justice Fellow, Nabihah Maqbool, Staff Attorney Nimrah Asmi and Interim Legal Director Sirine Nebaya.
Brenda Alfred, Operations PR Manager supporting Amazon operations in Minnesota, told DailyMail.com: ‘Diversity and inclusion is central to our business and company culture, and associates can pray whenever they choose.
‘Prayer breaks less than 20 minutes are paid, and associates are welcome to request an unpaid prayer break for over 20 minutes for which productivity expectations would be adjusted.
Amazon added in a statement to DailyMail.com: ‘We encourage anyone to compare Amazon’s pay, benefits, and workplace to other retailers, and to come take a tour and see first-hand.’
However Amazon refused to address specific aspects of the lawsuit.
‘We respect the privacy of employees and don’t discuss complaints publicly.’