A New Brighton factory is the latest Twin Cities employer to confront employment issues related to Muslim workers and their religious requirements at a time when the area’s population of Islamic adherents — and employees — is increasing.
Mission Foods, whose parent company is Irving, Texas-based food giant Gruma Corp., became the subject this week of a complaint filed with both the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights; one of the two agencies will investigate the allegations of employment discrimination based on religion.
Six female Somali production employees claim their badges were taken away and they were asked to leave company premises May 5 after they refused to wear a new pants-and-shirt uniform. The women, who dress in traditional Islamic robes and head coverings, consider such form-fitting attire an insult to their faith, which encourages women to cover all parts of their bodies and hair, according to the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN).
In a general statement, Mission Foods said no one had been fired for uniform-related violations. A spokeswoman said the issue is about safety.
The women, who reside in Minneapolis and nearby suburbs and range in age from young adulthood to middle-aged, had worked at Mission Foods between six months and a year without problems related to dress, said Valerie Shirley, a spokeswoman for CAIR.
A new human resources manager, who started in February after being transferred from another company location, brought with her a strict uniform policy that led to the May 5 confrontation, Shirley said.
“Upon hire, at least two of the women were told the clothes that they wore to the interview would be fine for their position,” Shirley said. “When the new human resources manager came on, the women were told they would need to wear a shirt and pants.
“The women feel there is something else at play. There is the general feeling that they are being treated in this manner because they are Muslim and their modest attire is a constant reminder that they are Muslim,” Shirley added.