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CAIR Files EEOC Complaint Against Ariens Company

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Former Muslim employees at Ariens have filed an EEOC complaint

Former Muslim employees at the Ariens Company in Wisconsin have filed a complaint alleging religious discrimination.

The group acting on behalf of the former workers is the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR. CAIR says the company has refused to make accommodations for prayer breaks.

The problems between Muslim employees and Ariens management started earlier this year, according to Maha Sayed, a civil rights attorney for CAIR.

“Prior to January 25, 2016, Ariens permitted its Muslim employees to individually leave their work stations to pray after they had notified and received permission from their respective supervisors,” Sayed says.

But Sayed says the company then changed its policy.

“Ariens management personnel announced to the Somali-Muslim workers that it was revoking its practice allowing its employees to take breaks for the purposes of prayer and that if employees wanted to pray, they must do so during the two prescheduled companywide 10 minute breaks,” Sayed says.  

Sayed says the problem is that Muslims are supposed to pray at certain times of the day and the prescheduled breaks don’t align with those times. As a result of the policy change, 14 workers resigned and the company fired seven others for taking unscheduled prayer breaks. Sayed says Ariens’ claim that the breaks disrupted production is false.

“The Muslim workers spent no more than five to 10 minutes away from their workstation and requested prayer breaks only once or twice during their shifts,” Sayed says.

The company did not return phone calls on Wednesday but Dan Ariens, president and CEO, previously told a Green Bay television station that the breaks impacted production.

“If you just use five minutes right and you take the number of people, and you put that over an annual number of days working, it’s over a million dollars in costs,” Ariens says.

John Cotton is a management professor at Marquette University.

“The problem or the reason it’s a difficult situation is that Ariens in the past did allows employees to do this. It wasn’t obviously a hardship for the employer at that time. Ariens is arguing there are now more people involved, it is not the sort of occasional thing, but it’s becoming a regular problem and so therefore it has become a hardship,” Cotton says.

Cotton says he’s concerned that this case might send the wrong message to other companies - that they should decide upon the rules and stick to them no matter what.

“The signal is that companies should be kind of very black and white in terms of allowing any kind of exceptions to the rules,” Cotton says.

The EEOC investigation will look into whether Ariens discriminated against the workers based on their religion. Depending on what the agency finds, it could work to settle the case or file a lawsuit against the company.

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