Muslim Workers, Barred From Wearing Hijabs, Walk Out On The Job

Somali Muslim burqa walkoutTwo weeks ago, an employee at Diane's Fine Desserts in Le Center, Minn., got her long skirt stuck in a boot washer. She wasn't injured, but her employer decided to take precautions anyway: No more dresses below the knee. In response, over 30 employees walked out on the job. They're Somali Muslims, and consider hijabs, traditional long dresses with headscarves, worn by some Muslim women, an important religious observance.

"Our religion is a priority," Fartun Husien, (pictured left) who has worked for the company for two years, told TV station KARE. "We feel hurt; we feel this is not right." Some of the workers even rallied outside the local office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, pledging to file a complaint against their employer for religious discrimination.

The owner, Mike Knowles, says the decision is about safety, not religion or race. "The woman's skirt was caught in the boot washer and she potentially could have been seriously injured, and we're just not going to live with that," he said.

He also claims that the uniform code isn't immodest; the boots go high enough to cover all skin, and employees can always wear pants underneath their dresses.

The employees don't think the move was so innocuous, however. One woman claimed that her supervisor swore at her when she wouldn't change out of her burqa. "They don't like our color and they don't like our religion," she told the TV station.

The issue of Muslim dress, a long and fraught debate across the Atlantic, has recently rubbed up against employers in this country. Last month, AT&T was forced to pay a Kansas City woman $5 million, after she alleged years of hostile treatment, ever since she'd converted to Islam and began wearing a veil. She claimed that managers repeatedly told her to take it off, and one grabbed her and tried to rip it from her head.

Earlier this month, New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority paid out $184,500 to eight present and former employees for discriminating against them for their religious clothing. The MTA has now changed its policy, saying that Muslim and Sikh workers can wear head scarves and turbans, as long as they're in the company's color: solid, navy blue

It's illegal to fire or refuse to hire a worker for his or her religious dress under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as long as accommodating such clothing doesn't impose an undue hardship -- for example, an expense or safety risk. Two weeks ago, the California Assembly passed a bill that would tighten this provision, and demand that employers prove that accommodating religious dress would pose significant financial hardship, and clarifies that relegating religiously-dressed employees to the back room doesn't count as accommodation.

This debate comes on the heels of a sweeping national conversation about religious freedom in the workplace. This past weekend, "Stand Up for Religious Freedom" rallies sprang up around the country, as religious leaders and concerned citizens continue to campaign against the upcoming federal mandate that businesses include birth control coverage in their health-care plans. Despite very different causes, the female workers at Diane's Fine Desserts could well take up their rallying cries.

In Chicago, Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz, chair of the legislative committee of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, called the law "an attack on any religious faith in this country."

The mandate "is about denying the rights of men and women to live and act according to their conscience," professor Mary Healy of Sacred Heart Major Seminary told the gathering in Detroit.

Rev. Mark Evans declared to the protesters in Little Rock, Ark.: "We've got to quit focusing on how our beliefs are different, but focus on the freedom that we have."

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Playing the religious card again. Borrrrrring!
If they want to be here so damn bad then they need to change those clothes that their men insist that they where. The men don't dress like that!
This is going to another rediculous law suit that makes a mess of our judicial system. Just what America needs, more crap from foreigners!

June 16 2012 at 1:35 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Workers "compensation" laws are written by business lobbyists to protect employers from being sued by their injured employees . The welfare of the injured employee is not what those laws are intended to protect.

June 12 2012 at 2:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Judi Klein

And when she, or one of her many "friends" gets injured they will sue the H out of the company, go on Workers Comp or SSDI for the rest of their lives.

Orthodox Jews get no pass, nor do Christians. This is ridiculous.

June 12 2012 at 2:24 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I know there are many places where men can't have facial hair, or woman and men must where hairnets. This seems to me a matter of safety, specially if there is that chance of the long skirts getting caught in electrical equipment. There is a chance you could be killed and I am sure over the years people have had clothing caught in equipment, or long hair caught. If it is the covering of their skin based on their religion, which I can certainly understand, then I believe another type of uniform should be thought up. Employers are afraid of workers compensation injuries and let me remind these employees that being injured on the job is a terrible thing to go through. Most states pay poorly, medical care can be less than adequate and there is always that chance of permanent injury or worse. I think if everyone works together, they could come up with a solution, not just saying NO and I am going to court, which seems to be the answer for everything these days.

June 12 2012 at 2:11 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Just onem more push for the muslims to get more power here . They will tak eit over soon if we the people don't put a stop to this and onow.,It seems that more and more this administration has made it easyt for these people to demand rights tthat Americans do not have. Kids are not allowed to wear crosses to school because they may be Gang Related, well it seems to me that the clothing wore b y the same gang of people that killed over 3000 citizens of the USA also apply then to Gang clothing. Muslims jave caused inury and death to hundred of thousands of people and not just Americans and are in all countrie now demanding rights and that everyone bow down and everyrone isa except Austraila they told them to shut up or get out..maybe ot nos time for us to give them all a free ride home where they have NO rights and can be stoned to death for talking to a man not their husbands..abide by our laws or get out and time to elect people who will stop this insanity for mulims to rule America and that getting the one in the white house the hell outta there too.

June 12 2012 at 2:04 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Storm's comment

What do you think the president has to do with this? The law governing this was passed in 1964, a little before Obama became president. It seems you hate Muslims, that's very Christian of you.

June 12 2012 at 2:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is about safety not religion. They need to comply with the safety requirements or get another job. If they were back in their old afican country they would not have a job. Again this is about safety. If they do not want to comply fire them . The first one to get hurt on the job will sue the company.

June 12 2012 at 1:46 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
jen and rose

Wow... there are a lot of intolerant people who posted. No, I am not Muslim, and I am from North America. I believe that safety must come first. I also think that there must be some way to attempt to allow for religious adherence and a job. Perhaps the burqas could be tied in the back so that they are not left hanging in front of the machinery. My mother (back in the days when there were factory jobs) had a job where long hair was unsafe. I believe at one point she almost got her hair caught in the machine. She did not need to cut her hair, simply tie it back. I think that attempts should be made to allow for them to adhere to their religious practices and keep their jobs. These people are not bad or uncivilized simply because they are not Christian and/or from the US. They are not trying to convert us. They are simply trying to live their religious beliefs, much like the founders of this country.

June 12 2012 at 1:41 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Ugh!!! Shut the hell up and do your job! If I were the owner or manager I would have made the same decision too! I would be shocked if ANY court would disagree with the employer.

June 12 2012 at 1:20 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Take the stupid burkas to a job where it isn't considered a safety hazard. Go home we don't need any of you here and take your screwy religious beliefs with you.

June 12 2012 at 1:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good, go ahead and walk out. As a matter of fact, keep on walking right back to the land of intolerance, hatred and stupidity. That way, a real American who really wants and needs a job can have it. The country did not adopt you; you adopted it. Therefore, follow and abide by the rules and when you go home, behind your closed doors, you can wear whatever you like. You came here because we are civilized. It is now your duty to follow the rules of our country and while we don't mind you keeping certain traditions such as food, we do mind you trying to take over a country which our ancestors worked so hard to build and WE are fighting so hard from falling into the hands of those who do not appreciate it. You either go back and live like caged animals or you put on a smile instead of a burqua and live free. You can't have it both ways.

June 12 2012 at 12:31 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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