Lawsuit Alleges UPS, Staffing Agency Discriminated Against Muslims

June 05, 2017 08:05 PM

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has filed a lawsuit against UPS and a staffing agency on behalf of two Muslim employees who say they were fired after their right to pray during work hours was taken away, leaving going home as their only option to observe mandatory prayers.

The lawsuit filed last week in Hennepin County District Court alleges Atlanta-based UPS and Doherty Staffing Services out of Edina failed to accommodate the religious beliefs of, and discriminated and retaliated against, Abdullahi Dahir and Abdifatah Hassan in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


The lawsuit characterizes the performance of five daily Islamic prayers as “a mandatory and essential part of the life of Muslims,” and completing the prayers in a timely manner is the most-important Islamic practice outside of the declaration of faith. 

According to the suit, Muslims working at the Mendota Heights UPS facility had been allowed to perform daily prayers outside of breaks and during work hours prior to June 2014. The suit says company policy dictated a Muslim employee should inform a supervisor when he or she needed to pray, and someone would take over the station for the four to seven minutes the prayers lasted on average. The suit says the prayers did not disrupt productivity.

That changed in June 2014 when a new operations manager was hired, the suit alleges. During an all-employee meeting that month, a Muslim employee raised the issue of Islamic prayer. The new manager allegedly asked employees who would like to pray to raise their hands. 

“After most Muslim employees raised their hands, (the operations manager) stated that he wanted to replace all of the employees who had raised their hands,” according to the suit. 

According to UPS, Doherty employs and manages the workforce at the Mendota Heights UPS facility. The suit alleges the new UPS operations manager and a Doherty employee then eliminated the option for employees to choose their own break times, and said that prayers would not be allowed outside of fixed break times. The suit says an employee found to be praying during a bathroom break would be sent home. 

The suit alleges UPS and Doherty refused to negotiate with Dahir and Hassan.

On June 25, 2014, multiple employees went home after being told that was the only way they would be able to pray, the suit says. The Doherty employee allegedly told them that if they left to pray, they would not be allowed to return. The plaintiffs then filed charges with the state Department of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

"In general, most employees, when this happens, they just walk away," said Amir Malik, an attorney for the Council on American Islamic Relations who is also handling the case. "They don't complain, they don't know their rights, they're just trying to put food on the table, and companies feel they can get away with this. And we've seen multiple cases of this and it focuses a lot on low-skill jobs where they think that people don't know their rights and they can be abused."

Malik says nine people originally called CAIR complaining about the change in the break policy, however only two have chosen to participate in the lawsuit.

The suit seeks unspecified damages to include restitution in the form of back pay plus interest and accounting for inflation, and compensation to be determined at trial.

In a statement, a UPS spokesperson out of Atlanta said that both UPS and Doherty “thoroughly investigated and found no evidence to support these allegations.” The statement further said the EEOC found no cause for claims against UPS and dismissed the allegations. 

The full UPS statement:

UPS respects religious differences and has specific protocols for reviewing requested accommodations to resolve conflicts between beliefs and working conditions.

Both UPS and Doherty Staffing Services, a company that employs and manages the workforce at the UPS Mail Innovations facility in Mendota Heights, thoroughly investigated and found no evidence to support these allegations. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also found no cause for claims against UPS and dismissed the allegations.

UPS Mail Innovations is a separate logistics unit that manages the pickup, processing and application of postage on behalf of companies for their flat mail, bound printed matter and parcels weighing less than one pound before transit to the U.S. Postal Service for final delivery.


Michael Oakes and Katherine Johnson

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