GREEN BAY, Wis. — An Islamic advocacy group is suing a Wisconsin manufacturer, alleging it failed to accommodate 19 Muslim employees who wanted to take prayer breaks during work time.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations wants the Ariens Co. to rehire the former employees and give them back pay and damages. The group’s federal lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Green Bay, also asks the Brillion lawn mower manufacturer to reinstate a more lenient religious accommodation policy that would allow employees to take short breaks for prayers at different times, such as dawn and sunset.
The company offers two, 10-minute breaks each work shift and doesn’t accommodate unscheduled prayer time. The manufacturer fired seven Muslim employees in 2016 for taking unscheduled prayer time. Another 14 employees resigned over the issue.
Jaylani Hussein, director of the council’s Minnesota chapter, said Ariens forced the Muslim employees to choose between their faith and their employment, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported .
Employers are required by law to give reasonable accommodates for religious practices if they don’t provide a hardship for the employer. Several prayer breaks throughout the day could cost $1 million a year in lost productivity, the company argued.
Ariens said in a statement it was surprised and disappointed by the lawsuit because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated the allegations several months ago and dismissed the complaint.
The company said it provides prayer rooms for workers to use during their regular breaks. The company said many Muslim employees who continue to work at the plant comply with the two-break policy and are able to fulfill their religious practices during those times.