A U.S. District Court in Brooklyn awarded $5.1 million to 10 workers who claimed their employer, United Health Programs of American, Inc., forced them to participate in group prayers and various other types of religious activities associated with the “Onionhead” religion.
According to the workers’ lawsuit, the company, which provides customer service for health insurance providers, coerced its employees to engage in ongoing religious activities, such as group prayers, spiritual discussions and candle burning. The behavior had occurred since 2007.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said these practices were a part of a belief system created by the family members of the defendants called “Onionhead.” Employees were told to wear Onionhead buttons, place the religion’s cards near work areas and keep lighting dim in the workplace. None of these activities were related to work.
The jury determined the defendants were in violation of federal law by enforcing these religious practices in the workplace and that they created a hostile work environment for nine of the 10. The tenth employee had been fired as retaliation for opposing the practices.
Employers must avoid pushing religious issues
Religion is a protected class in the United States, and employers are not allowed to discriminate based on religious affiliation in any way. This includes forcing employees to participate in religious practices and punishing those who do not.
In most cases, the courts only become aware of these issues because an employee gathers the courage to speak up. If you are aware of wrongdoing within your organization and would like to file a whistleblower claim, work with an experienced Dallas attorney at Kardell Law Group.