Somali workers accuse Owatonna, Minn. company of religious intolerance

21 former employees of an Owatonna, Minn. manufacturing site have filed a federal complaint accusing the company of religious intolerance. 

The workers say Amesbury/Truth Hardware, which makes parts for windows and doors, did not allow them to move break times to line up with the prayer times required by Islam.

One worker, speaking to reporters in Somali, said he was told he was simply not allowed to pray at all. Executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Jaylani Hussein interpreted his comments.

“The manager then told him this company does not allow for anybody to pray,” Hussein said. “He said if you pray you will be fired.”

Another former worker said it was difficult to try to earn money for her family when employers would not accommodate what are short prayer breaks.  

“We cannot skip our prayers,” she told reporters. “We must pray on time every day.  They should not disrespect us and treat us like we do not matter.”

The Civil Rights Director for CAIR-MN says they are bringing this to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission because it is such a clear legal issue. 

“Under the constitution, Americans are entitled to the freedom to practice their religion,” Amarita Singh said.  “As such they are entitled to reasonable accommodations.”

She also said they’ve tried to talk directly to Truth Hardware to no avail.

“We asked if they were willing to work with us to figure a way to meet both sides needs," Singh said. "They were not interested in doing this.”

Amesbury/Truth issued a statement to Fox 9 on Thursday regarding the lawsuit. 

“Amesbury/Truth complies with all local, state and federal workplace laws. We adamantly deny any wrongdoing related to the pending EEOC charge. Beyond that, we cannot comment on a pending legal matter.”