JBS Swift lawsuit: Greeley meatpacking plant accused of descrimination against Somali staff

"There's No Place Like Home for Somali Refugees in Greeley," a November 2008 feature by ex-Westword staffer Lisa Rab, told the tale of the Somali community in Northern Colorado, and those members who'd lost jobs in what Rab described in a followup post as "a clash over prayer breaks at the JBS Swift & Company meatpacking plant." Almost two years later, the federal government has filed suit on the workers' behalf.

The Greeley Tribune accompanies an article about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit with a timeline that neatly encapsulates the controversy:

Sept. 2, 2008 -- Between 40-100 Muslim workers request that their meal break be moved from 9:15 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. to coincide with sunset prayers of Ramadan.

Sept. 3 and 4 -- The Muslim workers' B-shift lunch break was accommodated and moved to 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 5 -- Shortly before the Muslim workers expected their 7:30 p.m. break , JBS moved the break to 8 p.m. During the break, the workers were told to go outside the facility. When they tried to re-enter the plant after the break, they were told not to return to work.

Sept. 8 -- JBS informed the union that employees who had left the plant Sept. 5 would be placed on indefinite suspension.

Sept. 9 -- The employees who left the facility on Sept. 5 were allowed to return to work and given a final written warning with two days of unpaid suspensions, provided they returned to work that day.

Sept. 10 -- JBS terminated all of the Muslim employees who had not returned to work Sept. 9.

Ramadan 2009 -- JBS officials and Somali workers publicly said that issues had been resolved. Prayer rooms and interval breaks for prayers were established.

Sept. 1. 2009 -- After an investigation, an EEOC panel found JBS had subjected Muslim workers to harassment, a hostile work environment, retaliation and discrimination. JBS responded that the issues had been corrected. Conciliation discussions between JBS and EEOC were scheduled.

MONDAY -- After conciliation talks failed, EEOC filed suit in federal court, alleging that JBS USA had engaged in a pattern of discriminatory treatment against Muslim and Somali workers at its Greeley and Grand Island, Neb., plants.

More details: According to Channel 7, "the lawsuit claims that Muslim workers trying to pray at the Greeley plant have been denied bathroom breaks, and are regularly harassed when they pray during their scheduled breaks or in the bathroom, with co-workers or managers using racist slurs and curse words."

The suit also contends that one restroom sported graffiti scrawls declaring, "fuck Somalians," "fuck Muslims" and "fuck Mohammed."

Even the feds couldn't ignore that.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts