LE CENTER, Minn. -- For almost two years, Fartun Husien has worked at Diane's Fine Desserts, that is until this week.
She along with more than 30 other Somali workers, women and men, walked out Monday because their company forced the women to change out of their burqas, a traditional Somali dress.
Women are no longer allowed to wear dresses that go below the knee after a woman's long dress got caught in a boot washer two weeks ago.
She wasn't injured, but the new dress code conflicts with the women's religion, which does not allow most of their body to be seen.
"Our religion is a priority. We feel hurt, we feel this is not right," she said. "We want to work hard in that company. We want produce product. We have a family to support, we have to support ourselves."
They believe forcing them to change their clothing is a violation of their religious freedom.
But the owner disagrees and was stunned to hear about the walkout.
"This one floored me and really came out of the blue," said owner Mike Knowles.
Knowles, out of Massachusetts, bought the company last month, formerly named Diane's Gourmet Desserts. He says the new rules had nothing to do with race or religion, but safety.
"The woman's skirt was caught in the boot washer and she potentially could have been seriously injured and we're just not going to live with that," he said when referring to the accident.
He says the company discussed the new rules beforehand with the workers and added the work boots are high enough that no skin would be exposed.
"They've always been able to wear pants or sweat pants or slacks underneath their dresses," he said.
That said some of the workers showed up outside the office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Minneapolis Wednesday vowing to file a complaint against their former employer.
Not only do they have a problem with the new dress code, but how it was communicated.
Fatuma Abdalla claims her supervisor swore at her when she refused to change her clothing.
"They don't like our color and they don't like our religion, I think so," said Abdalla.
A similar disagreement between workers and the previous owners happened in 2010 over the ability to pray while working.
Current workers hope this disagreement can be resolved.
"They should give us more time to explain things," said Husien.
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