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Company Practicing “Onionhead” Must Face Reverse Religious Discrimination Trial

Cost Containment Group (“CCG”) decided to use a program called “Onionhead” to improve the company’s culture. Designed by the CEO’s aunt, it was a multi-purpose conflict resolution program that included lots of materials and a “Declaration of Virtues of Empowerment.” Employees asserted that they were forced to submit to Onionhead, and they objected to its religious nature. Emails from the aunt showed references to: God, spirituality, demons, Satan, divine destinies, purity, blessings and miracles. 

A key document was the “Onionhead Keys and Codes to Living Good” and it was given to employees. Within this document are references to a Divine Plan, heavenly nature, and a statement that “every sacred tribe and religion have codes hidden within their scripts books and scrolls.” Verbal statements provided by the employees reflect instructions to chant or pray in the workplace and not to use lights in order to “prevent demons from entering the workplace through the lights.”

Each employee pursuing this lawsuit was fired by CCG. The EEOC filed suit alleging religious discrimination and reverse religious discrimination claims. The federal district in New York had first to consider whether “Onionhead” was a religion. In reviewing the aunt’s comments, the frequent use of “God” as well as the use of sprits and demons, the court concluded that “Onionhead” was religious in nature. Thus, CCG could be found by a jury to have violated Title VII by trying to impose its religious beliefs on its employees.