Ten health industry workers in the US have been awarded a $5.1 million payout because they said their health-network employer had forced them to participate in group prayers and other religious activities as part of the “Onionhead” religion. The name comes from a conflict-resolution tool for children the defendents called "Onionhead."
The case was filed on their behalf by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against United Health Programs of American Inc. and Cost Containment Group Inc., which provide customer service on behalf of various insurance providers. The plaintiffs claimed they had been coerced to participate in ongoing religious activities since 2007, including group prayers, candle burning and discussions of “spiritual” tests. The religious practices were part of a belief system the defendants’ family members created called ”Onionhead.” Employees were told to wear Onionhead buttons, place Onionhead cards near their work stations, and keep only dim lighting in the workplace, none of which were work-related. The jury found the defendants had coerced employees to engage in religious practices at work and created a hostile work environment.
The "Onionhead" religion
Judge Matsumoto had previously ruled that the Onionhead religious practice constituted a religion for purposes of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. EEOC trial attorney Charles Coleman, Jr., said “This case featured a unique type of religious discrimination, in that the employer was pushing its religion on employees. Nonetheless, Title VII prohibits religious discrimination of this sort and makes what happened at CCG unlawful. Employees cannot be forced to participate in religious activities by their employer.” Amy Traub, a lawyer for United Health, said her client planned to challenge the damages award, said “Our clients will weigh their options for further litigation of the claims, if any, once a judgment is made final.”