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Jun 15 2014

EEOC Sues Company Over Forced Religious Practices

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit against a company in New York for forcing a variety of religious exercises on its employees and firing them if they don’t take part. This is blatantly illegal under the Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination on the basis of religion.

According to the EEOC’s suit, United Health Programs of America, Inc., and its parent company, Cost Containment Group, Inc., which provide customer service on behalf of various insurance providers, coerced employees to participate in ongoing religious activities since 2007. These activities included group prayers, candle burning, and discussions of spiritual texts. The religious practices are part of a belief system that the defendants’ family member created, called “Onionhead.” Employees were told wear Onionhead buttons, pull Onionhead cards to place near their work stations and keep only dim lighting in the workplace. None of these practices was work-related. When employees opposed taking part in these religious activities or did not participate fully, they were terminated.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Civil Action No. 14-cv-3673) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

“While religious or spiritual practices may indeed provide comfort and community to many people, it is critical to be aware that federal law prohibits employers from coercing employees to take part in them,” said EEOC senior trial attorney Sunu P. Chandy.

Robert D. Rose, regional attorney of EEOC’s New York District Office, added, “Individuals are free to practice religion or not in line with their own personal beliefs. Employers are not permitted to dictate this area of workers’ lives. Workplace pressure to conform to the employers’ spiritual or religious practices violates federal employment law.”

It’s amazing to me that they would think they could get away with it.

23 comments

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  1. 1
    blf

    Onionhead?

    Either a bizarre parody of The Onion, or a Doctor Who monster from the wobbly-set days.

  2. 2
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @ ^ blf : Well you get heads of broccoli and cauliflower so why not heads of onon too?

    Of course they are rather different plants, species and genera~wise but still.

    ( .. & potatoes have eyes – thus implying heads kinda anyhow!)

  3. 3
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    The companies family created the new ghod Onionhead?

    Whoah! Freaky.

    Wonder if it has any relationship with the ‘Peanuts’ strip’s “Great Pumpkin” eh?

  4. 4
    Chiroptera

    Huh. I would have thought these people have a sincerely held belief to not pay people who don’t conform to their religious practices.

  5. 5
    raven

    “Individuals are free to practice religion or not in line with their own personal beliefs. Employers are not permitted to dictate this area of workers’ lives. Workplace pressure to conform to the employers’ spiritual or religious practices violates federal employment law.

    Tell that to the Hobby Lobby creep, CEO Steve Green.

    Right now he is trying to interfere with his employee’s family planning decisions. By telling them what birth control they can use, how, and when.

  6. 6
    blf

    Tell that to the Hobby Lobby creep, CEO Steve Green.

    Said creep simply needs to explain the awesome “logic” of the Onionhead. Then everyone will be falling…

    …down laughing, or
    …over each over as they run away. Run! (More Doctor Who…)

  7. 7
    Modusoperandi

    Relax. It’s voluntary. If they didn’t join in, they could volunteer to find another job.

  8. 8
    edmundog

    Onionhead is the original name of the “Ghostbusters” ghost more popularly known as “Slimer”.

  9. 9
    Akira MacKenzie

    Let me guess: the CEO of this company sits naked in his office all day, continuously watching Ice Station Zebra” and collecting jars of his own urine.

  10. 10
    Akira MacKenzie

    Whoops! HTML fail. Need coffee.

  11. 11
    dingojack

    Just for you Stevo….. Onion head.
    Dingo

  12. 12
    Ifandonlyif Ornot

    Closeted David Lynch fans, perhaps?

  13. 13
    Menyambal

    _Onionhead_ is a 1958 comedy-drama film set on a U.S. Coast Guard ship during World War II, starring Andy Griffith and featuring Felicia Farr, Walter Matthau, Erin O’Brien, …

  14. 14
    Larry Kearney

    It took 7 years to discover this? Better late than never, I guess. These people probably weren’t too far from getting into bunk beds wearing tennis shoes, and waiting to be beamed up to the mothership.

  15. 15
    jason the cripple

    What made them think they could get away with this? How about the fact that they did for seven freaking years. What the hell took the EEOC so long?

  16. 16
    steve84

    Bonus points for forcing their own religion on them instead of Christianity.

  17. 17
    Zeno

    Onionhead is heresy! When Rand Paul becomes president, we will all worship Aqua Buddha!

    Or something like that.

  18. 18
    photon

    Looks like they’re this mob:
    http://www.harnessinghappiness.org

    Some highlights: offering kids “A Path to Self-love”, & advising teenagers to keep a “Self-love Calendar”! (insert juvenile snickering)

  19. 19
    democommie

    If this:

    “United Health Programs of America, Inc., and its parent company, Cost Containment Group, Inc.,”

    doesn’t peg your Iron-O-Master 5000, nothing will.

    I dealt with these assholes about 10 years ago and they lied through their fucking teeth about what they would cover. According to Wiki they’re #17 on the Fortune 500 and a really dreamy outfit to work for…

  20. 20
    lochaber

    sounds like that character from that old playstation game Parappa the rapper…

  21. 21
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Are we sure this isn’t an error and that it is actually Eraserhead?

  22. 22
    Ifandonlyif Ornot

    @21 I, for one, await our rubber-headed overlords :-)

    (Also, too . See my #12)

  23. 23
    Sastra

    After glancing over photon’s link at #18, my first guess is that they thought they could get away with it because it’s not religion — it’s spirituality. There are a lot of newage buzzwords and deepities re supernatural connections blurred into practical advice. There’s no specific Church.

    I have New Age and neopagan friends who think this is a big, important distinction. Why, Spirituality violates no laws on the separation of Church and State because Spirituality includes everyone, regardless of their religion. They don’t get (or don’t want to get) the concept that the promotion of supernatural beliefs per se qualifies as advancing “religion.” They’re as emotionally invested in denying that Spirituality is “religion” as those fundamentalists who insist they don’t have a religion, it’s a “relationship.”

    I suspect Onionhead is claiming an imaginary Spirituality Exemption.

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