On Wednesday, 25 Muslim workers officially filed a lawsuit against the Hertz rental car company. The suit, which alleged religious discrimination, has been gaining a great deal of attention since the workers were fired from the company in October. Hertz, though, claims that the company will “vigorously defend” itself and that religious discrimination allegations are unfounded.
Hertz made the decision to let the Somali Muslim drivers go after they refused to clock out when they took time for their regular Islamic prayers. The workers, who were drivers at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, claimed that the company was not being accommodating to the fact that observant Muslims pray five times per day.
According to Hertz, the employees were in violation of collective bargaining rules that were reached as part of an agreement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission two years ago. These regulations, Reuters reports, apparently required that workers clock-out before engaging in personal activities.
In October, the Teamsters Local 117 filed an unfair-labor-practices suit with the National Labor Board, claiming that the company didn’t give the union notice about the policy change. Reuters has more about the case as it currently stands:
The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in King County Superior Court, accuses Hertz of intentionally creating a “hostile work environment owing to religious, race and national origin discrimination” by terminating the drivers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in late October.
The lawsuit says Hertz employees at the airport have been allowed to take bathroom or smoking breaks for the past 15 years without clocking in or out. It also says Muslim workers among them have long been permitted to take prayer breaks off the clock and that their labor contract does not require clocking out for such breaks.
Jack Sheridan, a lawyer for the workers, says that the employees usually prayed in private spaces two times during the day. The time spent during these prayers was reportedly three to five minutes at a time. Sheridan also says that the workers want back pay, job reinstatement and monies for damages related to emotional pain and suffering.
Other workers who were previously suspended, but have agreed to clock out have been reinstated. The company could not be reached for comment, as Hertz offices were closed earlier this week.
Hertz and two managers are named as defendants in the lawsuit. In addition to complaints about the treatment over prayer, the former employees claim that they were addressed harshly, that managers peered into women’s prayer space and that they also banged on the women’s restroom door.
Hertz spokesman Richard Broome issued a written statement in which he claimed that the situation has nothing to do with religion or discrimination. ”The employees refused to accept our only requirement — that they clock out first to ensure that when prayers ended they returned to work promptly, which wasn’t happening in many instances,” he wrote.
According to Reuters, this isn’t the first time some of these same workers have filed discrimination claims against the company. In 2007, they purportedly ruled a grievance with the EEOC and subsequently reached a settlement with Hertz. The lawsuit claims that retaliation was a major factor behind their October dismissal.