Somali Muslim Women Sue Amazon For Alleged Discrimination

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Grace Carr Reporter
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Three Amazon employees in Minnesota filed charges Tuesday against the company alleging that it discriminated against them because of their religion.

The employees, three Somali Muslim women, filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The women work at an Amazon warehouse in Shakopee. The women allege that Amazon violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to accommodate their religious needs, according to the charges.

The suit also alleges that the company actively sought to keep Somali employees in their current positions rather than consider them for promotion and retaliated against workers who protested against poor conditions, according to the suit.

The workers allege in their suit that the company refused to give them the time and space they need to practice their daily religious rituals. “Around the second week of my employment with Amazon, I received my first write-up for falling below the set packing rate. Because of this write-up, I stopped taking breaks to perform the required ablutions before prayer, and I avoided going to the bathroom in order to maintain my rate and avoid additional write-ups,” one of the plaintiffs wrote, according to the charges.

The women say they were ignored regarding promotion opportunities where others were considered. “While white workers were provided with opportunities to be promoted and trained for positions other than shipment packer, these opportunities were regularly denied to black Muslim workers of Somali origin, including myself,” the charges allege, also saying that Amazon liked to keep Somalis in the heavy packing department.

After a group of Muslim workers, including the Somali women, protested alleged discrimination at the company in December, 2018, the women were given more difficult work, according to the charges.

Amazon retaliated against the women following the protest, according to their statements. “After the protest, I began to be treated differently, including receiving write-ups for low rates—even though, in the past, I had occasionally posted lower rates but had not received write-ups for them,” a plaintiff wrote.

“No worker should have to sacrifice a bathroom break to pray or be punished because they protested discrimination in their workplace,” the Muslim Advocates interim legal director, Sirine Shebaya, said according to a Wednesday press release from the group. Muslim Advocates is a “national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks,” according to its website.

Amazon Go grocery store that requires no check out and no lines opened this first store in 2018 near the Amazon campus. Shutterstock/Rocky Grimes

“Amazon should not tolerate this kind of discrimination at any of their workplaces or facilities,” a Muslim Advocates staff attorney, Nimra Azmi, also said in a statement.

“Prayer breaks less than 20 minutes are paid, and associates are welcome to request an unpaid prayer break for over 20 minutes for which productivity expectations would be adjusted,” Amazon spokeswoman Ashley Robinson told The Daily Caller News Foundation Wednesday. “We encourage anyone to compare Amazon’s pay, benefits, and workplace to other retailers, and to come take a tour and see firsthand.”

Amazon has faced numerous lawsuits and been heavily criticized for poor working conditions on multiple occasions.

Three Amazon delivery drivers sued the company in October 2016, alleging violations of federal labor laws. A man and his transgender wife filed a lawsuit against Amazon in August 2017, alleging the company turned a blind eye to sexual harassment and discrimination they faced during their year of work at an Amazon warehouse. (RELATED: Amazon’s Working Conditions Are Apparently Making Employees Suicidal)

Former Amazon employee Shannon Allen said in a March interview that she almost committed suicide because of the conditions at Amazon.

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