On Dec. 8, 25 Muslim Hertz Corp. employees from its Seattle-Tacoma International Airport location have filed suit against the company for claims of religious discrimination. In a Reuters article, Hertz Corp. said that it would “vigorously defend” itself in the dispute.
The suit, filed with the King County Superior Court, also names two Hertz managers and comes after 34 Somali Muslim employees were suspended on Sept. 30 for allegedly abusing their paid breaks, as reported by Auto Rental News. Toward the end of October, 25 of the 34 employees were subsequently fired.
The Muslim shuttle drivers were originally suspended from their jobs for not agreeing to clock out for their paid breaks, which were typically used for praying.
“It is unfortunate that the former employees backed themselves into a corner and are suing instead of having accepted reinstatement with the continued right to take paid prayer breaks,” said Richard Bloome, Hertz spokesperson, in a written statement to Auto Rental News on Dec. 13. “The only condition was the reasonable requirement to clock out, to prevent further abuse of break privileges, which several employees accepted and were promptly reinstated.”
As well, Bloome said that workers who weren’t clocking out had been warned repeatedly before the suspension and offered all the employees reinstatement on these paid-break terms. “It should be clear that this matter has nothing to do with discrimination or religious bias,” Bloome said.
Employee agreements from February, which Auto Rental News obtained through Teamsters Local 117 — the union that represents the employees but is not involved in the case — had read that, according to collective bargaining agreements, “employees must ‘clock’ in and out for all rest and meal breaks.”
However, the memo also states that, “If you intend to take five or more breaks, you do not have to punch, but you must notify your senior and/or dispatch at the beginning and end of each break.” According to Local 117, this typically is the type of break the Muslim workers take for the purposes of praying.
In a memo posted Sept. 30, the same day the 34 workers were suspended, the notice on breaks changed slightly, “Per the CBA, all rest and meal periods must be punched, including all religious observation. Failure to punch for a rest period will result in progressive disciplinary action up to and including termination.” This memo doesn’t mention that people taking breaks broken up into at least five sessions aren’t required to clock in and out.
Several of the 25 workers in the suit, according to Reuters, were also involved in the 2007 EEOC discrimination claims against Hertz, in which a settlement was reached in 2009.
According to its December newsletter, Local 117 has filed religious discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and several unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board.
Here are past news items on the issue, as well as the earlier case: