'Pray or You're Fired' -- Workers Allege Forced Prayer at Company


CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CN) - Bosses at a Long Island health care company forced their workers to participate in a religion known as "Onionhead," in which workers are required "to thank God for their employment" and to tell their bosses "I love you," the federal government claims in Federal Court.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Wednesday took on the United Health Programs of America Inc. and Cost Containment Group of Sayosset, on behalf of three of three workers: Elizabeth Ontaneda, Francine Pennisi and Faith Pabon.

The women claim they were required to participate in the "belief system" of "Harnessing Happiness" or, "more commonly, 'Onionhead.'"

The rituals of Onionhead require participants to burn candles at work, discuss personal matters with colleagues and keep lights dim in the office.

One of the women says she was fired for refusing to participate in a "spiritual activity," and that she was moved from her office to a customer service floor to answer phones. A Buddha statue was then placed in her empty office, she says.

Another plaintiff says she called in after becoming pregnant and was fired after she was moved to a customer service floor when she refused to participate in Onionhead prayers.

The third plaintiff says she was fired for refusing to participate in prayer meetings during a work-related trip to a spa in Connecticut.

The three women say other workers were fired for not helping with fund-raising efforts for the Onionhead religion.

 "Aggrieved individuals were forced to participate in the above-described religious practices against their will and some were forced into involuntary resignation as the only way to avoid taking part in those practices," the lawsuit states.

The EEOC seeks to stop the religious discrimination in the workplace, and back pay for the woman and other money lost for not participating in Onionhead activities.

It is represented by P. David Lopez

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