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“Onionhead” Company Loses at Jury Trial

In 2016, a New York federal district court ruled that the Harnessing Happiness program featuring a character called “Onionhead” qualified as a religion. In 2018, a jury heard the case brought by employees forced to follow the program and reached a $5.1 million verdict against the company.
Cost Containment Group brought the “Onionhead” program into its workplace to improve communication and teamwork. A primary requirement of the program was for employees to say “I love you” when speaking to each other to make the workplace seem like a family. There were other requirements such as “Universal Truths” cards that workers had to select to “reunite them with the ecstatic Universal Realm;” required recitations from “angel cards” and mandatory participation in late night prayers at a company retreat; and Buddha’s, candles as well as spiritual music were placed throughout the office. Employees had to work by desk lamps to prevent “demons” entering through the overhead fluorescent lights.
Several employees went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) after they were fired for refusing to engage in “Onionhead.” One employee stated that she was fired after refusing to comply with the “Universe’s” desire for her to move her home. Another employee refused to go along with the office’s “Onionhead” activities and was fired shortly thereafter. Because “Onionhead” was found to qualify as religious activity, Cost Containment was liable for religious discrimination and harassment against the ten employees who pursued claims. The company is seeking to reduce the $5.1 million verdict.