Employment Law Summer Recap 2014: Part 11 of 11 – GOAL: the World Cup and Onionhead Capture America’s Attention…Briefly
This summer’s FIFA World Cup was truly spectacular. I know this because I’ve been working in the same office building for years and not once has every one of the 10+ pubs located within a five-block radius been packed to the gills on a weekday afternoon for a sporting event. I know this because unfortunately I had to race back to said office building to attend to a work matter with the U.S. down 2-0 in extra time, and as I was headed back, I heard the loudest collective roar I’ve ever heard. There was such joy and excitement over the U.S.’s first goal in the 107th minute – it was a sound I’ll never forget.
I can’t tell you how many people said to me during the tournament, and especially after that game, “watch, you’ll see, soccer is now finally going to catch on in America.” To which I’d politely respond, “no, no, that’s just not going to happen; the World Cup is just an easy opportunity to show your patriotism through sports – something we are really good at, but like every other recent World Cup, we’ll just forget all about it ten seconds later.” Which, as predicted, is exactly what happened. Ask yourself: have you thought about the World Cup until you read this post?
Face it, futbol is a religion everywhere but in America.
Also claiming not to be a religion in America: “Onionhead.”
This summer, the EEOC sued a healthcare company based out of Long Island (pronounced Lawn Guy-land) alleging religious discrimination under Title VII and the New York State Human Rights Law after the owners required employees to participate in certain religious activities and fired those who opposed them. The “religion” they cited in the complaint was called “Onionhead”.
“Onionhead” is part of the Harnessing Happiness Foundation, a non-profit organization that says it is “dedicated to emotional knowledge and intelligence, conflict resolution and life handling skills, for all ages.” Onionhead, it continues, is an:
“incredibly pure, wise and adorable character who teaches us how to name it – claim it – tame it – aim it. Onion spelled backwards is ‘no-i-no’. He wants everyone to know how they feel and then know what to do with those feelings. He helps us direct our emotions in a truthful and compassionate way, which in turn assists us to communicate more appropriately and peacefully. We then approach life from a place of our wellness rather than a place of our wounds. His motto is: peel it – feel it – heal it.“
The EEOC claims that the family owners of the company made their employees participate in various Onionhead religious and spiritual practices on a daily basis, including group prayers, candle burnings, discussion of spiritual texts, wearing of Onionhead pins, keeping Onionhead cards in their workspaces and saying “I love you” to co-workers. Workers were also required to attend weekly Onionhead meetings and meet with Onionhead’s spiritual leader, the aunt of one of the owners, on a monthly basis where she would have one-on-one sessions with the employees to discuss “divine plans, “moral codes,” and “enlightenment.” Of course, none of these practices were work-related.
The Company and its spiritual leader have vehemently denied that Onionhead is a religion. Instead, they have termed Onionhead a “self-improvement workshop” or a “corporate wellness program,” in hopes of avoiding Title VII and NYS Human Rights Law violations. But whether Onionhead is or is not a “bona fide” religion may not matter. As the EEOC pointed out in a letter to the court, other courts have construed Title VII broadly to cover “a range of religions, other systems of beliefs and even a lack of beliefs.” According to the EEOC, Title VII extends to “religious practices [that include] moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views,” and therefore it extends to Onionhead.
We will be following the developments in this case closely. How could we not?!