OMAHA, NEB.: Meatpacker sued over treatment of Muslims

A lawsuit filed by a federal agency claims Somali Muslim workers at a meatpacking plant in Nebraska were denied prayer time and faced harassment and even termination for asking to pray.

The lawsuit was filed Monday by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf on more than 80 Somali Muslims. It claims JBS Swift & Co. has failed to make reasonable religious accommodations, violating the workers’ civil rights, since at least December 2007.

Plant supervisors and non-Somali employees also harassed the Muslim workers, “interrupted their prayers, refused to let them pray, threw meat at them, called them names,” among other things, the lawsuit says.

A message left at JBS Swift’s U.S. headquarters in Greeley, Colo., wasn’t immediately returned.

The tensions over prayer time at the Grand Island plant have been building since 2007, when East Africans began filling the gaps left after a 2006 immigration raid cleared illegal Hispanic workers from the plant.

The lawsuit seeks an order requiring JBS Swift to provide prayer time and to refrain from retaliating against workers who ask to pray. It also seeks monetary compensation for fired workers.