WASHINGTON, DC — On Tuesday, three Somali Muslim women filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against an Amazon warehouse in Shakopee, Minnesota alleging a broad pattern of civil rights violations by the company. The charges allege that Amazon violated Title VII by failing to accommodate Muslim employees’ religious needs, failing to promote Somali workers, and retaliating against workers who protested discrimination.
Workers at the Shakopee warehouse alleged that they were denied adequate space and time to practice their religion. They also alleged that they and other Somali workers are regularly assigned less favorable work, are passed over for promotions, and have their complaints repeatedly ignored by the management. When they participated in protests to raise concerns over this discriminatory treatment, they faced a pattern of retaliation and a hostile work environment. They received “write-ups” -- the equivalent of warnings that could ultimately result in discharge.
“Around the second week of my employment with Amazon, I received my first write-up for falling below the set packing rate. Because of this write-up, I stopped taking breaks to perform the required ablutions before prayer, and I avoided going to the bathroom in order to maintain my rate and avoid additional write-ups,” said Ms. B in her charge.
The charges also allege that Amazon created a discriminatory, two-tiered system in which qualified Somali and East African workers were regularly passed over for promotions in favor of white workers and regularly received more difficult work assignments.
“While white workers were provided with opportunities to be promoted and trained for positions other than shipment packer, these opportunities were regularly denied to black Muslim workers of Somali origin, including myself. Instead, Amazon preferred and continues to prefer to confine Somalis to packing, and especially to packing heavier items,” stated Ms. A.
Finally, the charges allege that Amazon illegally retaliated against Muslim workers who took part in a December 14, 2018 protest designed to address discrimination at Amazon’s Shakopee facility. After participating in the protest, all three women stated that they noticed a campaign of retaliatory harassment from Amazon management that included receiving more difficult assignments, increased surveillance, and increased disciplinary measures.
“After the protest, I began to be treated differently, including receiving write-ups for low rates—even though, in the past, I had occasionally posted lower rates but had not received write-ups for them,” said Ms. C.
The three charges demonstrate that Amazon created an environment of discrimination against Muslim Somali and East African workers that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“No worker should have to sacrifice a bathroom break to pray or be punished because they protested discrimination in their workplace,” said Sirine Shebaya, interim legal director for Muslim Advocates. “Our clients’ experiences reflect a culture of discrimination against workers on the basis of their race, religion, and national origin. We hope the EEOC will prioritize and immediately investigate these Title VII violations.”
“The abuse and discrimination these women describe is unacceptable and un-American,” stated Abdirahman Muse, executive director of the Awood Center. “I’m so proud of these brave women for sharing their stories to make Amazon a safe place not just for Muslims but for all workers.”
“Our clients have been harassed, targeted, and retaliated against for no reason other than their race, religion, and national origin,” said Nimra Azmi, staff attorney for Muslim Advocates. “Amazon should not tolerate this kind of discrimination at any of their workplaces or facilities.”
“Black Muslim women are especially vulnerable to many forms of discrimination, in the workplace and elsewhere,” said Nabihah Maqbool, racial justice fellow for Muslim Advocates. “It is critically important that their concerns be addressed and remedied in a systematic way.”