Prayer dispute settled: Woodbury Walmart rehires fired Muslim worker

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 21, 2009 - 9:43 PM

Company and a St. Paul rights group reached an agreement that included a promise by the company to accommodate prayer breaks.

A major retail chain has rehired a fired Muslim employee in the Twin Cities and is now accommodating his right to pray in the workplace.

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations announced Monday that Wal-Mart agreed to the accommodation after the rights group intervened on behalf of employee Abdi Abdi, who was fired from his job in February as a stocker and loader at the Woodbury store.

The council says that Abdi, a four-year employee with Wal-Mart, was let go for violating a new supervisor's ban on prayer during work breaks. A previous supervisor had allowed him to perform his daily prayers, the organization said.

Abdi was rehired last month at a Wal-Mart in St. Paul and is now allowed to pray during breaks, following negotiations between the council and local and national representatives of Wal-Mart, the St. Paul-based rights group said.

"We appreciate Wal-Mart's handling of this case and its willingness to accommodate the religious practices of employees," said Zahra Aljabri, the group's civil rights coordinator.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Michelle Bradford said that "respect for the individual is one of our company's core values, and we practice it every day in our stores and clubs.

"We have many Muslim associates who pray during their work breaks and on their lunch hour. What associates do within their allotted break time is their personal choice. In this case, we're glad everyone came together to resolve the issue on a positive note."

Abdi was rehired at the Wal-Mart in the Midway area of St. Paul because it is closer to his home, his wife works there and managers at that store are "more familiar with the prayer schedule," Aljabri said. "At least a dozen" Muslims work at the Midway Wal-Mart, she said.

As part of the agreement, Wal-Mart has agreed to send about 10 of their employees for diversity training next month that the rights group is conducting, Aljabri said.

Aljabri noted that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Minnesota Human Rights Act protect the right of any employee with a bona fide religious belief to have accommodation in the workplace as long as that accommodation does not cause "undue hardship" for the employer.

This arrangement is the latest case involving Minnesota employers in conflict over the prayer requirements of Muslim workers.

In April, a federal judge gave approval for Gold'n Plump Inc. and an employment agency to pay $1.35 million to settle lawsuits alleging religious discrimination against Muslims at a chicken processing plant in Cold Spring. Somali Muslims claimed that St. Cloud-based Gold'n Plump violated their religious rights by refusing to allow them prayer breaks.

The nation has seen a surge of religious discrimination complaints from Muslim workers since the late 1990s. Complaints to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have more than doubled during the past decade, from 398 in 1997 to 909 in 2007.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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