You have to fight for the right to pray

class=img_thumbleft>Muslim workers at an Arden Hills manufacturing plant are suing the company for the right to pray five times a day. The class-action lawsuit, filed last month in U.S. District Court, targets Celestica, a Toronto-based electronics manufacturer, and Adecco, a temporary-work agency that provides employees for the Arden Hills factory.

According to the lawsuit, prior to May 27, 2005, Muslim workers at the plant were permitted flexibility in break times that allowed them to meet their prayer requirements. A change in policy, however, mandates that all employees take breaks at times determined by the company. Subsequently Muslim employees were disciplined or terminated for violating the new guidelines. "A lot of our plaintiffs were punished for taking prayer breaks," says Sofia Andersson, an attorney with Nichols Kaster & Anderson who is working on the case.

The lawsuit contends that the new strictures violate the employees civil rights. According to the complaint, roughly 100 current and former workers could be included in the class. The workers are seeking monetary damages, as well as an order mandating that the companies make reasonable accommodations for the religious beliefs of their Muslim workers.

In court filings, neither company disputes the assertion that workplace rules regarding breaks were changed in May, 2005. But they argue that the present arrangement does not violate the rights of workers. "Essentially, Plaintiffs demand that they be permitted to cease work and engage in prayer whenever they deem it necessary regardless of their employers's legitimate business needs," Adecco charges in its response to the lawsuit. "This request for an 'accommodation' is unreasonable and would result in an undue hardship to these Defendants."

In 2002 the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Oberto Sausage Company for failing to accommodate the religious beliefs of its Muslim workers. In that case, employees were fired for taking unauthorized breaks to end their fasts during the month of Ramadan. Under the terms of a consent decree, the company agreed to pay $362,000 in damages and to not engage in further discriminatory practices.