Lawsuit: No Prayer, You're Fired

Credit: Google Maps
Credit: Google Maps

A Syosset company fired workers who refused to take part in the business’s imposed religious activities, violating the employees’ civil rights, a federal agency has charged in a lawsuit.

The business, United Health Programs of America, Inc., and its parent company, Cost Containment Group, forced employees to participate in group prayers, candle burning and spiritual-text discussions, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed the suit, announced Wednesday. The company provides customer service for various insurance providers. 

These practices are “part of a belief system that the defendants' family member created, called ‘Onionhead,’" the EEOC said in a news release. “Employees were told to 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.”

Employees who opted not to participate in these religious activities or did not participate fully were fired, according to the EEOC.

The alleged requirements violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on religion.

"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 Sunu P. Chandy, an EEOC senior trial attorney, in a statement. 

"Individuals are free to practice religion or not in line with their own personal beliefs,” said Robert D. Rose, regional attorney of EEOC's New York District Office.

“Employers are not permitted to dictate this area of workers' lives,” he added. “Workplace pressure to conform to the employers' spiritual or religious practices violates federal employment law. 

The company could not be immediately reached for comment. 

A website for the Syosset-based Harnessing Happiness Foundation refers to its members as "Onionheads." The foundation describes itself as a "nonprofit dedicated to teaching problem solving skills, conflict resolution and appropriate behavior through emotional awareness."

Shirley Ferrell Smith June 14, 2014 at 01:31 PM
What happened to 'freedon in religion' here in America? I know many people who would rather worship in private. This doesn't make sense in this day and age. Organized religion, such as organizations and churches, accomplish much for people, but a regular workplace demanding such or out you go, seems fanatical to me, and I don't trust such organizations. What are they really about. Many people hide things behind their religion because people are so gullible. I grew up in a small town and the church I went to brought in revivals and my father was on the board of that church. I got quite an education. We had one preacher who ran away with his housekeeper and he had a wife, in a wheelchair. Many different stories that are too interesting to forget.
Arline Ostolaza June 15, 2014 at 03:38 PM
The company obviously wished to impose their religious beliefs on all their employees. In this country we have people from all over the globe and we have just as many religious beliefs. We also have the Constitutional right to freedom of religion. The company breached that right. This practice cannot be allowed to continue anywhere in our country. The people who were fired should sue for lost wages until they regain employment.
Jane Steeves June 15, 2014 at 11:01 PM
Doug "typical" really? Then why is this a story if it is typical?
Andrea June 16, 2014 at 11:08 AM
I went to the site, there is nothing religious in it. Its about self-empowering and love... about dealing with conflict and especially uncovering emotions in kids and feeling accepted. Something most people could use. If this particular place brought religion into it, thats wrong but it may be they just wanted conflict resolution with the wrong people. LOL. Try using this on the judge
Shelly June 23, 2014 at 01:57 PM
That group is obviously a cult and not a true Christian religion, but that is irrelevant to the discussion. Pushing your religious views on someone else is not allowed in this country (at least in the workplace) no matter what religion. I find a few of political comments above rather offensive, and frankly made from a point of absolute ignorance. As usual, a lefty is preaching tolerance, but at the same time, calling names, making judgements about people, and looking to shut down all dissenting opinions. Get off your soap box bruce mallon-some of us aren't buying what you're peddling.


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