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Muslim Workers File Federal Complaint Over Religious Rights
CINCINNATI (Jeff Hirsh) -- A Muslim civil rights group has filed a federal civil rights complaint, alleging that 24 Muslim workers at a major local company were fired because they tried to pray during their shifts.
The Cincinnati chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says DHL Global Mail, part of the DHL shipping hub at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, denied the workers reasonable accommodations for their religious practices, according to CAIR executive director Karen Dabdoub.
At an afternoon news conference at the CAIR office in Blue Ash, two of the workers, 21-year old Shahira Abdullah, and 20-year old Najma Hassan, said that DHL changed its policy on employee break-time, which made it impossible for them to do evening prayers at the proper hour. Devout Muslims pray five times a day. Evening prayers are supposed to take place between sunset and approximately one hour later.
The two women said DHL used to have a flexible break time policy, so workers could take breaks when they wanted to. That way, the Muslim workers say they could pray at the proper time. But they say DHL changed the policy to a mandatory break two hours after the shift began, with no exceptions.
You are practicing your religion, which you are supposed to do if you are obeying God and following Muhammad, said Hassan. Thats what youre supposed to do and to miss it is really bad.
Under the old flexible break policy, the women said workers would pray two or three at a time, for only about five minutes. But on October 9, to protest the new policy, all 24 workers prayed at once, and were then dismissed.
Booker Washington, attorney for the local CAIR chapter, said DHLs new workplace policy put these workers in a position of having to choose between exercising their civil rights and staying on the job in violation of their civil rights.
All 24 workers, CAIR said, are of Somali descent, but are now American citizens or legal resident aliens.
The complaint was filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. If upheld, it could lead to options such as back pay, fines, a lawsuit for damages, and the rehiring of the workers, and an order to change company policies.
Shahira Abdullah said she would like her job back, but only if DHL changed its new break-time rules.
They should think this over and know religion is religion, she said. There is no choice to it.
Local 12 News has requested a response from DHL. A company spokesperson told us the request has been forwarded to the proper person, but we have not heard back yet.
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