Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Court Upholds $1.8M Award For Religiously Hostile Work Environment

In EEOC v. United Health Programs of America, Inc., (ED NY, March 6, 2020), a New York federal district court, in a 74-page opinion, upheld a jury verdict, as subsequently reduced by the court to $1.778 million, in a suit charging an employer with creation of a hostile religious work environment. The court said in part:
In the fall of 2007, defendants’ CEO, Robert Hodes, hired his aunt, Denali Jordan, who introduced religious and spiritual practices and teachings to the workplace. Defendants’ supervisors and officers, including Denali, imposed certain practices and beliefs, often referred to as “Onionhead” and “Harnessing Happiness,” on plaintiffs.....
[A]mple evidence in the record established that numerous religious images and practices permeated the office environment, and that employees were required to participate in such religious practices. Among other things, defendants’ office environment was cluttered with pervasive religious imagery, including rosary beads, Buddhas, and Onionhead/Harnessing Happiness literature, posters and banners; employees were given Onionhead feeling and truth cards and Onionhead workshop materials and instructed to use them; employees were strongly encouraged or instructed to wear Onionhead pins; employees were scheduled for attendance and participation at the Onionhead/Harnessing Happiness workshops, which employees understood were mandatory. ... [T]he Onionhead religion motivated certain idiosyncratic office practices, including the dismantling of overhead lights, use of candles, incense, and table lamps, hugging and kissing of coworkers, praying and meditation, and coworkers being directed to say “I love you.” All of these practices, taken together,could be found to have “unreasonably interfere[d] with an employee’s work performance” and altered the conditions of an employee’s work environment for the worse.