GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Attorneys with the Council on American-Islamic Relations have filed a federal lawsuit against Brillion-based Ariens Company regarding the business' break policy, which drew push back from Somali Muslim workers.
The lawsuit filed in the United States District Court in Green Bay lists 19 plaintiffs, and claims violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Wisconsin Fair Employment Act.
The document states that the plaintiffs are seeking "compensatory and punitive damages" along with back pay and coverage of attorney fees.
The lawsuit claims Ariens forced the employees to choose between "violating their core religious beliefs by not performing their obligatory prayers to maintain their employment."
Prior to a change in break policy in 2016, Muslims employees were allowed to leave the production line twice a shift to pray two of the five prayers their faith requires of them daily. They prayed five minutes at a time, designating their specific duties to colleagues.
The company changed that policy, and asked employees to pray during scheduled breaks in designated prayer rooms. Ariens said the decision was made to avoid unscheduled breaks in production.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs say they were assured by management prior to accepting a job at Ariens that they would be allowed to perform their prayers during shifts "should the need arise."
The company fired seven employees for not complying with the policy, and 14 other workers resigned.
Other Muslim workers stayed on and abided by the new break policy.