After a decade of negotiations and a court battle, the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley will shell out $5.5 million for past employee discrimination.
“I am pleased with the result because I think in terms of culture, in terms of policy, in terms of training, there have been changes,” said Mary O’Neill, regional attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “For JBS Swift I hope that this is a learning moment, a change for them.”
In 2008 and 2010, employees said the company denied them prayer breaks in the evenings during the Muslim holiday month of Ramadan and that they were harassed by management and other employees.
“They were called the N-word. They had pork thrown at them. They were called all sorts of derogatory names in the workplace,” O’Neill said. “It's really pretty ugly frankly, and there was also just a denial of these prayer breaks.”
The alleged discrimination violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law that forbids workplace discrimination, including on the basis of race, national origin or religion.
“This is a moment in time where we're talking about systemic racism, and I do think that there is an overlap between these workers being Black, being from another country and being Muslim,” O’Neill said. “I think that we really have to look at the way we treat our workers who are of a different color and are immigrant workers.”
In addition to the monetary settlement, JBS must provide a place for employee religious observances that is not a bathroom. The company must make changes to its anti-discrimination policies, create a hotline to report discrimination, establish a diversity committee and host trainings for all employees on anti-discrimination. Former employees covered by the settlement will have the opportunity to be rehired.
According to a statement from JBS, the consent decree did not require JBS to admit any liability. "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," the statement reads.
The meat processing plant in Greeley employs immigrants from all over the world. In 2010, employees at the time were shocked at how they were being treated.
"As far as I know, in this country, it's freedom of speech, freedom of religion," said Farhia Abdi. "Nobody should bother [with] what you should do for your own religion. And this plant, what they're telling us is, 'You can't practice your own religion.'"