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In this Jan. 8, 2016 photo, a sign advertises job openings at the meat processing plant owned and run by Cargill Meat Solutions in Fort Morgan, a conservative rural community on the eastern plains of Colorado. Many of Fort Morgan's roughly 1,200 Somali immigrants, many who are refugees who fled war, work at Cargill. (Brennan Linsley, The Associated Press)

Cargill Meat Solutions and a union representing meat packers have reached a nearly $1.7 million deal to settle claims that 138 Muslim workers at its Fort Morgan plant were denied proper prayer accommodations and then wrongfully lost their jobs.

The settlement was announced Friday morning.

The 138 employees, many of them immigrants from Somalia, alleged they were discriminated against because they weren’t allowed short breaks several times a day to perform their Muslim prayers and that the dispute led to them losing their jobs.

The situation led to an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint.

“While Cargill does not accept the basis of these EEOC complaints, it decided to settle the matter out of court to avoid a protracted legal proceeding and provide all parties with a path forward,” the meatpacking company said in a joint news release with the workers’ attorneys.

As part of the settlement, the release says Cargill has reaffirmed its commitment to continue to allow Muslim workers to take short breaks to perform their obligatory prayers.

The settlement, according to the EEOC, includes a $1.5 million payment to the workers from Cargill and a $153,000 payment from Teamsters Local Union No. 455 over allegations the union failed to properly represent the group.

“Providing our employees with religious accommodation is an important part of engaging and supporting our employees, and our policy has remained consistent for more than 10 years,” Brian Sikes, president of Cargill Meat Solutions, said in a written statement.

Qusair Mohamedbhai, who represented the Muslim workers, said in a statement that he and his clients “are gratified with the settlement” and “applaud the company for its ongoing efforts to consistently grant prayer requests to people of all faiths based on its longstanding policy and values.”

The situation dates to 2015, when the Muslim workers allege a prayer policy allowing them short breaks was abruptly changed. That led to a walkout over the altered policy and the subsequent loss of the employees’ jobs.

The EEOC says it found reasonable cause to believe the Muslim workers “were harassed, denied their requests for prayer breaks and fired from their employment.” It also found reasonable cause to believe that Local 455 denied its members fair union representation for failing to advocate for them, and subjecting them to retaliation and a hostile work environment.

“We applaud Cargill for working with the charging parties and the EEOC to reach a meaningful resolution enabling all parties to move forward,” EEOC Phoenix District Director Elizabeth Cadle said in a written statement. “… We thank Local 455 and the charging parties for working with the EEOC to reach this positive conciliation on these important issues.”

The case drew national headlines and intense scrutiny form the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...