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Muslim Advocacy Group Plans to File EEOC Complaint against Wisconsin Company

Muslim men pray in the mosque.

The Council on American Islamic Relations plans to file an EEOC complaint against Ariens, a Wisconsin company about 90 minutes north of Milwaukee.

In January, the firm changed its policy regarding prayer times for Muslim workers. Instead of continuing to allow them to pray when their faith dictates, particularly at sundown – which changes, Ariens set specific times. The 50-plus workers and company management have been unable to come to an agreement.

Earlier this month, the Ariens Company fired seven Muslim employees who rejected its new prayer policy, and several others quit. Most of the rest accepted the set prayer times, but nearly all asked CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations to intervene. Maha Sayed is an attorney with CAIR.

“The company’s continued and deliberate refusal to entertain or consider suggested alternatives offered by the employees, including taking unpaid breaks in order for them to perform their prayer or adjusting the preexisting scheduled breaks to more reasonably align with prayer times during the work day further reveals bad faith on the part of Ariens,” Syed says.

In coming weeks, CAIR plans to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC can launch an investigation, and it can last anywhere from a few weeks to a year or more, according to Randy Enochs. He’s a labor and employment lawyer in Milwaukee.

“They can request information, and that’s where they’re asking for things like personnel policy, personnel files, information on other employees, things like that. EEOC can do an onsite visit where the investigator goes to the actual workplace so that they can get a better sense of what the job atmosphere is like, what’s going on,” Enochs says.

Enochs says if the investigator finds that discrimination probably occurred, the EEOC has to try to settle the case.

Usually, settlement involves a dollar amount and other non-monetary requests. If the company decides not to settle, the EEOC can then give the people who brought the complaint the right to sue.

“And what that basically means is we concluded our investigation, you have 90 days to file this or you lose your right to file this forever. A lot of people think that means they should sue because hey, I got this letter, it says I have a right to sue, I should do it. But that’s not quite what it means,” Enoch says.

Enoch says if any workers decide to sue, the EEOC can act as their lawyer or you can hire an independent lawyer, and money is available. Enoch says about 90 percent of the federal cases end up being settled out of court. He says there are also options to sue at the state level, but in recent years, Wisconsin has changed its laws making it more difficult to receive compensatory and punitive damages. The Ariens Company did not respond to an interview request.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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