DENVER -- JBS will pay up to $5.5 million to approximately 300 employees as the result of a consent decree stemming from a lawsuit that alleged the company discriminated against employees because they were Muslim, Somali immigrants and Black.
According to the 2010 lawsuit, the discrimination took play at the JBS beef processing plant in Greeley, where employees were denied religious accommodations. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said the company didn't allow Muslim employees to pray as required by their religion and that employees were harassed when they tried to pray during breaks.
The EEOC claimed those Somali Muslim employees were treated differently than other employees and disciplined more harshly. In the lawsuit, JBS was accused of shutting off water fountains during the holy month of Ramadan in 2008, which prevented Muslim employees from drinking water after fasting all day.
The lawsuit also alleged that JBS managers and other employees harassed Black and Somali employees by throwing meat or bones at them. They employees also reported being called offensive names. Court documents also state there was offensive anti-Somali, anti-Muslim and anti-Black graffiti present in the restrooms, with phrases like “Somalis are disgusting,” “F--- Somalians," F--- Muslims and the N-word.
As part of the consent decree settling the lawsuit, JBS is also being required to take several measures intended to correct and prevent and future discrimination. Any of the roughly 300 employees covered under the decree will be eligible to be rehired. JBS will also be required to review anti-discrimination policies, maintain a 24-hour hotline for reporting discrimination, investigation employee complaints, support a diversity committee and provide annual train sessions to employees about laws that prohibit discrimination.
Three of those employees – Mohamed W. Mohamed, Jimale Abdille, and Hassan Barre – spoke with Denver7 Wednesday after news of the consent decree.
Barre said he and others had tried to report the discrimination to supervisors but said they did little to address their concerns. Mohamed said he was not allowed to pray while working and said there were "a lot of problems" during his time there.
"While I was working, performing my duties, I was cutting meat, packing it in boxes. Often, you would see someone throwing a bone or a piece of meat. ... All kinds of insulting names were called while I was working there."
Abdille said he felt "abused" along with his other Black and Somali coworkers but kept working because they needed to support their families. He said he was not sure anything would ever come of the lawsuit.
"I thought nothing would happen because it took so long -- almost 10, 11 years," Abdille said. "I'm glad that things will change for the future for the people who are behind me."
“The EEOC is proud to obtain such significant relief for the hundreds of workers harmed by the unlawful employment practices alleged in this lawsuit,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows. “This case serves as a reminder that systemic discrimination and harassment remain significant problems that we as a society must tackle. I am hopeful that the employer’s new policies, especially those providing for swift handling of harassment complaints and ensuring appropriate times and places for employees to practice their faith, are a step in the right direction.”
"No one should have to go to work and be denigrated for their race or their religion, or their skin color, or their beliefs," said EEOC supervisory trial attorney Rita Byrnes in an interview.
JBS spokesperson Nikki Richardson said in a statement that JBS USA did not admit any liability in the consent decree, which "resolves an issue that arose in 2008."
"JBS USA is an equal opportunity employer that is committed to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. We prohibit discrimination and harassment of any kind," Richardson said in the statement.