EEOC Sues Employer for Imposing "Onionhead" Religious Beliefs
- June 27, 2014
Within the next several days, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to release its decision regarding the government’s authority under the Affordable Care Act to require private employers to provide contraceptive care to employees despite their owners’ religious objections. Regardless of the outcome of that case, Title VII continues to prohibit employers from imposing religious beliefs on employees as a condition of employment.
This principle was illustrated earlier this month when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued United Health Programs of America, a New York provider of customer service to insurance carriers. In the suit, the EEOC alleges that the owners of the company coerced employees to participate in quasi-religious practices created by the owners’ family members. These practices, deemed “Onionhead,” included group prayers, requiring employees to address one another with “I love you,” and use of candlelight as the office’s main lighting source. The EEOC says that employees who opposed or refused to participate in these practices were terminated.
Title VII prohibits employers from dictating employees’ personal religious practices or beliefs. Workplace pressure or coercion to follow the owners’ beliefs is considered religious discrimination. Private businesses may be operated by their owners in conformance with their personal religious principles, but this discretion ends when such principles include dictating to employees their personal religious beliefs or practices as a condition of employment.