CORRECTION: This story has been changed to reflect correct information regarding the American Civil Liberties Union’s involvement in this case. ACLU has not decided if it will provide legal assistance to the workers, but has been notified of the incident.

A day after a group of Somali women were told to leave their work site because they would not follow a new company dress code, an organization is getting involved.

On Monday morning, about 10 Somali women working at Dianne’s Fine Desserts in Le Center were asked to change out of their full-length, loose fitting dresses because of safety concerns.

It marked the first day of a new company dress code after a woman’s long dress got stuck in a boot washer machine.

The women chose to leave instead, and were then joined by the 20 or so Somali men also working the day shift at the facility, which employs about 250 people.

A similar scene was reported at the beginning of the second shift Monday. According to Dianne’s Fine Desserts owner Mike Knowles, a “substantial minority stayed and adhered to the dress code and some chose to walk off the job.”

Abdul Abdilahi, who has worked as a mixer at the facility for two years, and other employees reported the incident to the Council on American-Islamic Relations office in Minneapolis on Monday afternoon.

“We’re talking with them about ways that we can be held responsible for our safety,” Abdilahi said. “We know there’s no problem with the quality of our work, and we want to continue working there.”

Lori Saroya, executive director of CAIR Minnesota, said her office was still in the intake process for the complaint — reaching out to affected employees and gathering the facts.

CAIR previously took on a case filed against the company, then called Dianne’s Gourmet Desserts and under different ownership, in December 2010 that involved the termination of 25 Islamic workers.

“The workers’ break schedule no longer coincided with their prayer schedule, so some of the workers chose to get up and pray anyway,” Saroya said.

The employees were reinstated and the complaint was forwarded to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to look at back pay and harassment issues, Saroya said.

“In this case we got a probable cause determination and now it’s in the settlement phase,” she said. “So it’s very discouraging that we have to start over on a new case with them.”

Saroya said that while CAIR would not take a stance on the case until all the facts were discovered, the organization has been involved with similar cases where companies were able to find alternative clothing options for Islamic workers.

“Right now this is about helping them understand how they can provide a safe work environment while allowing their employees their religious freedoms,” she said of Dianne’s. “It’s very important for companies to be proactive in these situations and not let it get this far. A better cultural understanding of their employees would help prevent these cases.”

The Islamic workers come from across the southeast region — including Le Center, Faribault and Mankato. A number of Mankato employees reached out to Abdi Sabrie, the executive director of the African Family and Education Center, who has since forwarded the incident to the American Civil Liberties Union.

“These people have been working there for years, and they were hired the way they were,” Sabrie said. “I wish there would have been a process to this. I wish they would have come up with the dress code and given the workers time to look it over and consider it. But no, instead they just said, ‘Take it or leave it.’”

Sabrie said he reached out to the human resources director at Dianne’s Fine Desserts and was forwarded to Knowles.

“I had a conversation with Mike Knowles and he said that as far as he’s concerned, they quit their job and there’s nothing to talk about,” Sabrie said. “But we are already talking to the ACLU and to CAIR and we will move forward with this.”

A spokesperson for ACLU said the organization has not decided if it will provide legal assistance to the workers.

Knowles declined to comment to the Daily News regarding the employment status of workers who either were asked to leave or walked off the site on Monday.

When asked what had happened since the incident, Knowles said his staff were continuing to work to keep the Le Center facility operating.

“We’re trying to run our business,” he said. “We’re trying to make up for the employees that chose to walk off the job.”

Reach Rebecca Rodenborg at 333-3128 or follow her on @FDNRebecca

Reach Rebecca Rodenborg at 333-3128 or follow her on @FDNRebecca

Reach Rebecca Rodenborg at 333-3128 or follow her on @FDNRebecca

Recommended for you

Load comments