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Somali Women Claim Amazon Discriminated Against Them Based On Their Religion, Ethnicity, and National Origin

By Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On May 7, 2019, three anonymous Somali Muslim women, Ms. A, Ms. B, and Ms. C, filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Minneapolis, Minnesota against Amazon.com, Inc. (“Amazon”), alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1961.  These women claim Amazon’s Shakopee, Minnesota fulfillment center failed to accommodate Muslim employees’ religious needs, failed to promote Somali workers, and retaliated against workers who protested discrimination.  Minnesota is home to some 30,000 immigrants from Somalia who started settling in the area in large numbers in the 1990s.  Somali immigrants make up a sizable portion of the 3,000 workers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minnesota.

The women allege that Amazon denied them adequate space and time to practice their religion.  They claim that employees feared taking time away to pray, since that lost time would reduce a worker’s “rate,” or how many items a worker packs per hour.   The warehouse’s current packing rate is 240 boxes an hour, but it has gone as high as 400.  Employees who regularly fall short of the rate—simply because they attempted to observe their religious obligations to pray—faced repercussions such as write-ups.  Several employees stopped taking breaks to perform ablutions before prayer, broke their Ramadan fast, and stopped going to the bathroom.

The women also allege that Amazon regularly passed Somali workers over for promotions. Amazon allegedly has a two-tiered system in which qualified Somali and East African workers are regularly passed over for promotions in favor of white workers and regularly received more difficult work assignments.  “While white workers were provided with opportunities to be promoted and trained for positions other than shipment packer, these opportunities were regularly denied to black Muslim workers of Somali origin, including myself.  Instead, Amazon preferred and continues to prefer to confine Somalis to packing, and especially to packing heavier items,” stated Ms. A.

Finally, the women allege that Amazon illegally retaliated against Muslim workers who took part in a December 14, 2018 protest.  In response to the conditions at Amazon facilities in Minnesota, including the continuing issues with religious accommodations and discrimination in promotions and treatment, hundreds of East African workers at Amazon’s Shakopee facility, organized by the Awood Center, assembled outside the facility in protest on December 14, 2018.  Ms. A, Ms. B, and Ms. C were outspoken supporters of this protest. Their involvement ranged from encouraging other workers to participate in the protest to speaking to the protest and the media regarding Amazon’s workplace conditions.  Almost immediately after their participation in the December 14 protest, Ms. A, Ms. B, and Ms. C began experiencing a campaign of retaliatory harassment from Amazon management.  The retaliation has taken several forms, including, but not limited to, more difficult and less favorable duty assignments and pre-textual write-ups.

“No worker should have to sacrifice a bathroom break to pray or be punished because they protested discrimination in their workplace,” said Sirine Shebaya, the interim Legal Director for Muslim Advocates, which represents Ms. A, Ms. B. and Ms. C.

The Harman Firm supports these workers and all workers who are denied accommodations or discriminated against based on for religious beliefs, ethnicity, or national origin.  If your employer has discriminated against you based on your religion, including denying you a reasonable accommodation for your religious beliefs, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.

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