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Religion at Amazon: Will Praising God, Jehovah, or Allah Cost You?

Hands of an unrecognizable woman in white cardigan praying
By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Three Muslim employees have filed a federal complaint against Amazon for discriminatory treatment, hostile work environment, and retaliation.

In a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the women say they face racial and religious discrimination at Amazon warehouses in Minnesota. They say they are afraid to pray or fast for fear of being fired. It's not the first employees have sued over religious discrimination. But the case sheds new light on the challenges Muslims face in America and at Amazon.

Praising God at Work

Whether workers praise God, Jehovah, Allah, they have a right to be free from religious discrimination at work. Title VII requires that employers:

  • reasonably accommodate employees' religious practices, unless
  • that would cause an undue hardship on the employer

When called upon, courts try to balance the reasonableness of the employer's actions against the hardship caused by complying with the employees' religious practices. In the Amazon case, a Muslim advocacy group made a claim on behalf of black Muslim women of Somali origin. The group says they are not alone: "The conditions described in their charges reflect a broader pattern of unlawful employment discrimination against Muslim, Somali, and East African workers at Amazon." They allege Amazon does not offer an adequate space to pray, and employees fear taking time to pray because they would lose time working. If their production fell -- "simply because they attempted to observe their religious obligations to pray" -- they would face repercussions.

Disparate Treatment?

In addition, the complainants say Amazon consistently fails to promote East African workers. They say white employees are favored over Somalis, who are passed over for promotions. It became serious enough last year, that they held a rally for better conditions. According to reports, Minnesota is home to about 30,000 Somali immigrants. About 3,000 of them work at the Amazon fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minnesota. In a statement, Amazon said "diversity and inclusion" are central to the business and company culture.

" Prayer breaks less than 20 minutes are paid, and associates are welcome to request an unpaid prayer break for over 20 minutes for which productivity expectations would be adjusted," the company said. "We encourage anyone to compare Amazon's pay, benefits, and workplace to other retailers, and to come take a tour and see firsthand."

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