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Lawsuit: Man Was Fired Over Muslim Prayers

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CHICAGO (CBS) — A Chicago man is suing his former employer in federal court, claiming he was fired because of his religious beliefs.

As WBBM Newsradio’s David Roe reports, Nathan Henderson is suing the American Bottling Company, headquartered at 15320 S. Halsted St. in Harvey.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s David Roe reports

Henderson claims he was fired as a delivery man after he asked his boss to allow him to plan his breaks on Fridays around Islamic prayers.

Henderson says he would conduct a prayer during his downtime between soda deliveries, which usually lasted 5 to 10 minutes.

But when he asked to take a lunch break from 1 to 2 p.m. on Fridays so he could participate in weekly Jumu’ah prayers, his manager Bill Hatten said “No, we don’t do that,” the suit said.

Henderson then asked if he could work on Saturdays instead of Fridays to make up the hours, to which he was told Saturday shifts were reserved for employees with the most seniority.

Hatten allegedly said: “I wish you would have told me you had this obligation before we hired you. We would not have hired you. Maybe you need to look for another job.”

The following Monday, Henderson came to work and discovered his timesheet was not in its slot. He was told to wait in the cafeteria, where he sat for four hours before being told by a branch manager “it was not working out” and he was terminated immediately, the suit said.

When asked for an explanation, the manager said, “We just got to let you go.”

The suit alleges Henderson’s time for prayer did not in any way affect the timeliness of his deliveries or his overall job performance, and that he was never reprimanded or disciplined prior to his Friday prayer request.

He was also never given a reason for his termination.

The Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed the complaint on behalf of Henderson, who they say was “unjustly fired.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found the “evidence established reasonable cause to believe that the company discriminated against [Henderson] because of his religion, a release from CAIR-Chicago said.

The suit seeks all wages and benefits Henderson would have received; compensatory damages; injunctive relief against the company to cease and desist from discriminatory behavior; punitive damages; additional relief and attorney fees. It also demands a jury trial.

No bottling company representative available for comment Thursday evening.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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