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Employer wins decision against religious accommodation in workplace

Published: Thursday, Oct. 24 2013 4:15 p.m. MDT

After a string of rulings nationwide in favor of employees who compalined their workplace was unfriendly toward religion, a federal judge in Nebraska has come down in favor of an employer.

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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — After a string of rulings nationwide in favor of employees who complained their workplace was unfriendly toward religion, a federal judge in Nebraska has come down in favor of an employer.

The owners of a beef processing plant in Grand Island refused to grant a request that about 100 Somali Muslim workers be allowed to pray during bathroom breaks and that meal times be moved to accommodate their observance of Ramadan — when Muslims fast during daylight hours for about a month.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued on behalf of the Muslim workers. Chief Judge Laurie Smith Camp ruled on Oct. 11 that the requests created an undue hardship on the employer, JBS. She found that accommodating the religious observances would have impacted the safety, efficiency and morale of other employees as well as the sanitizing of the plant, according a brief synopsis on Religion Clause.

"Although this burden is high ... dismissing a pattern or practice lawsuit brought by the EEOC demonstrates that the undue hardship defense is alive and well!" exclaimed a pair of corporate law attorneys on the website Lexology.com.

They said the employer's solid facts and figures should provide a roadmap on how a company can make an undue hardship defense work against a request for religious accommodation under federal law.

Other employers have usually come out on the losing end of religious accommodation lawsuits, and it's costing them. Clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch recently paid $71,000 to settle two separate claims brought by Muslim women over a company policy that banned the hijab head scarf, according The Guardian.

The report said Abercrombie & Fitch has changed its policy and allows the religious headwear.

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com, Twitter: @deseretbrown

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