EEOC claims on rise as Americans view Islam more and more negatively

Posted on April 29, 2011

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Eve Tahmincioglu, MSNBC

[…] A poll released l[in September 2010] by the Pew Research Center that shows that the public’s view of Islam has deteriorated, with only 30 percent of Americans expressing a favorable opinion of Islam, compared with 41 percent in 2005.

“One can easily conclude that since the general situation is so unfavorable when it comes to Muslims that this negative idea is carried into the workplace,” said Shams Inati, a professor at the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at Villanova University.

[Mary Jo O’Neill, regional attorney for the Phoenix district office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] said the bias against Muslims in the workplace is the worst she has seen in her 30-plus years working for the EEOC and described it as “chilling.”

One particularly disturbing case O’Neill is involved in is an EEOC suit against meatpacking company JBS Swift & Co.

The suit claims the company discriminated against Somali and Muslim employees at its headquarters in Greeley, Colo., and another one of its facilities in Grand Island, Neb.

The suit alleges a pattern of discrimination and a failure to accommodate the workers’ religious requirements for prayer breaks. The charges also include a series of abusive behavior among JBS employees.

“Managers, supervisors, and other employees regularly threw blood, meat, and bones at the Somali and Muslim employees,” the EEOC suit alleges. “There was offensive anti-Somali, anti-Muslim and anti-Black graffiti present in the restrooms.”

JBS officials did not respond to a request for comment on the suit.

“I keep thinking we’re making strides and then we go through bad periods like this,” said O’Neill. Making matters worse, she said, is the bad economy. “With hard economic times scapegoating goes on. If we had full employment and plenty of jobs, this gets buried a little bit.” […]

“You can’t say to a receptionist, ‘I don’t want you wearing headgear because it drives customers away,’” if the attire is religiously based, said Danielle Urban, an employment attorney with Fisher & Phillips in Denver.

Decisions on what an employer can legally forbid are based on whether the request from an employee is reasonable and can be accommodated, she explained. If wearing a headscarf is a safety issue on a production line, for example, then an employer may be allowed to bar such scarves. [Please click here to read the whole article.]

Employment Discrimination Against American Muslims and the Law

[Excerpted from the written testimony of Farhana Khera, President & Executive Director Muslim Advocates, Hearing on Protecting the Civil Rights of American Muslims, U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights]

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from engaging in
discrimination, including harassment and retaliation, on the basis of race, sex, color,
religion, and national origin. Since 2001, the EEOC has been tracking the number of
charges received under Title VII alleging employment discrimination specifically based
on race, religion and national origin due to 9/11. Between 9/11/2001 and 9/11/2010,
1,026 charges were filed under Title VII alleging post-9/11 backlash employment
discrimination. In addition, during this same period, the EEOC received 5,750 charges of discrimination based on the complainant’s Muslim faith. For a comparable period of time prior to 9/11/2001 (9/11/1992 to 9/10/2001 (nine years)), the EEOC received 2,186 charges of discrimination based on the complainant’s Muslim faith. Between September 2008 and September 2009, the EEOC had received a record 803 complaints alleging anti-Muslim bias, which was a twenty percent increase from the previous year.  Muslims are approximately two percent of the American population, yet, according to this most recent data, their bias complaints accounted for twenty-five percent of the total number. […]

At the same time, gaps in federal law are emerging. Two courts have recently
ruled that an employer can segregate and keep out of public view Sikh and Muslim
workers who wear turbans or headscarves, respectively. In response, Sikh Coalition,
Muslim Advocates, and a diverse range of faith and civil rights groups have asked the
EEOC to issue guidance to employers clarifying that, in the opinion of the nation’s
preeminent Title VII enforcement agency, segregating employees on the basis of
corporate image constitutes an adverse employment action and can never be deemed
“reasonable” under Title VII.8 [Please click here to read the whole testimony]

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