About 40 former employees of a local dessert company began a discrimination case this week, alleging that the new dress code violated their religious rights. The employees are all Somali women who dress in accordance with their Muslim beliefs. There is a dispute over whether the women were fired or whether they quit, since the discussion about the dress code was apparently presented as a choice to comply or leave.
“Actually, when they asked me to fire them I said, ‘No you need to make that decision regarding your job, it’s a personal choice,'” said the human resources manager at the company.
However, it isn’t so simple. For many Somali women, their clothing style is a matter of religious observance, and infringing on an employee’s religious freedom needs to be limited only to situations where a reasonable accommodation cannot be made.
The company had apparently reached an accommodation agreement with the employees previously but had since changed ownership and a majority of Somali employees had not signed the new agreement.
In this situation, the workers were being asked to wear skirts much shorter than those prescribed by their religious beliefs and were asked to do so after being employed in the same position previously without that requirement. A spokesperson for the company said that it was a matter of safety rules in reaction to a minor incident of a worker getting her skirt caught in boot cleaners. The worker was not injured.
The lawyer representing the women said that the new skirt length was too short and would potentially expose the women’s legs if they sat down or bent over, which would be a violation of their religious beliefs.
More information about discrimination against Minnesota employees is available on our law firm’s website.
Source: Fairbault Daily News, “Somali workers, Dianne’s Fine Desserts argue over unemployment eligibility in Le Center” Rebecca Rodenborg, August 1, 2012.