Company taking over XL Foods being sued over alleged racial and religious harassment – Workers claim mistreatment of Muslims, Somalis, blacks

By Glen McGregor, Ottawa Citizen October 20, 2012

OTTAWA – The Brazilian-owned company taking over a troubled XL Foods facility in Alberta is being sued by a U.S. government agency for alleged mistreatment of Muslim, Somali and black employees.

JBS USA will assume management of the XL Foods facility in Brooks, Alta., the source of E. coli contamination that last month triggered the largest meat recall in Canadian history.

The U.S. branch of the Brazil-based company is defending lawsuits in Colorado and Nebraska brought by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in 2010 that claim employees were subject to “hostile work environment because of their race, national origin, and/or religion.”

Many of the employees working the kill floor at the Brooks plant that JBS USA will manage are temporary foreign workers. Many are black and some come from Somalia.

One lawsuit, filed on behalf of employees of JBS USA’s Swift & Co. facility in Greely, Colo., claims their supervisors and other workers threw meat, blood and bones at the workers and also used offensive language toward them.

The allegations have not been proved in court.

The company did not respond to calls requesting comment on Friday. But in court documents, JBS USA denied it committed unlawful employment practices. It denied there was harassment and argued that the EEOC should have first exhausted administrative remedies before suing.

The complaint claims the company did not accommodate the needs of Muslim employees to pray five times daily during Ramadan and retaliated against those who used bathroom breaks to pray.

It also alleges that Swift employees turned off water fountains or cordoned them off with red and yellow tape usually used to denote rotten meat, so that they couldn’t drink water while fasting for the religious holiday.

Similar litigation in Nebraska alleges that employees at JBS USA’s Grand Island, facility were harassed with comments made by supervisors. It also claims a failure to accommodate the religious beliefs of Muslim employees. Some employees who protested lack of Ramadan accommodation were unlawfully terminated by claiming they had engaged in an unauthorized work stoppage, the lawsuits allege.

The EEOC said it received more than 160 complaints against JBS USA in the two states in 2008. The litigation against the company was launched after the EEOC investigated the claims.

The cases are scheduled for trial next April.

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 Original source article: Company taking over XL Foods being sued over alleged racial and religious harassment