No Second Bite for Prayer Claims

By Heather Vickles

Neither the EEOC nor Muslim employees at a Nebraska meatpacking plant will be able to pursue individual claims that their employer failed to accommodate prayer practices. In a long running dispute [click here to view previous posts], the EEOC filed suit against JBS USA, LLC in 2010, asserting both pattern or practice claims and individual claims on behalf of scores of Somali Muslim employees, many of whom intervened in the case. The requested accommodations included providing prayer breaks or a mass meal break for sunset prayer. The case was bifurcated into two phases, with the first phase addressing only the EEOC’s pattern or practice claims, and the second phase reserved for all individual claims. In 2013, the court ruled that the accommodations requested would have caused undue hardship to the employer’s business and were thus not reasonable and not required under Title VII.

Now, at the outset of the second phase, the employer moved to dismiss all of the individual accommodation claims because the court, in 2013, had already ruled that the requested accommodations posed an undue hardship. The same defense applied to the individual claims. The court agreed, noting the interests of the EEOC and the Muslim workers were aligned on this issue, the facts in the two phases were closely related, and the issue of undue hardship was fully litigated and was essential to the 2013 judgment. Although some other claims remain to be tried in phase two, the court dismissed all remaining claims of failure to accommodate the workers’ prayer practices. EEOC v. JBS USA, LLC, 8:10-CV-318 (D. Neb. Jan. 28, 2015).

Editor’s note: Bernie Siebert and Heather Vickles lead the team that prevailed on this motion.