You may well be wondering what Onionhead is. And what it does. Or why it was sued – by the EEOC.

Is it a corporate wellness program? A self-improvement workshop? A religion?

Well – wonder no more!

What IS Onionhead?

According to the website of the entity which sponsors Onionhead, “Harnessing Happiness Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to teaching problem solving skills, conflict resolution and appropriate behavior through emotional awareness and intelligence.  Our main objective is to focus on children, tweens, and teens well-being.”

However, according to the EEOC, “What defendants glibly call ‘self-improvement workshops’ and ‘corporate wellness programs’ were actually compelled religious activities led by their spiritual adviser, ‘Denali,’ and other management in violation of Title VII.” The EEOC said that it is “a belief system called ‘Harnessing Happiness’ or ‘Onionhead’” established by the aunt of the CEO of United Health Programs of America, Inc, and its parent Cost Containment Group, Inc. (“CGC”).

“The aunt, employed by CCG as a consultant and fully supported by CCG’s upper management, spent substantial time in the company’s offices from 2007, implemented the religious activities at the workplace and had a role in employee hiring and firing.”

Why The EEOC Lawsuit?

The EEOC sued the company for allegedly coercing employees to engage in religious practices at work and by creating a hostile work environment for them. It was alleged that “CCG employees were forced to engage in a variety of religious practices at work, including prayer, religious workshops, and spiritual cleansing rituals.”

The federal court in Brooklyn previously ruled that Onionhead was a religion, for purposes of Title VII, and a jury just found that the company violated Title VII and awarded a whopping $5.1 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

Takeaway

We know that Title VII prohibits workplace discrimination based upon religion or religious beliefs – and also, as the EEOC trial attorney said, “Employees cannot be forced to participate in religious activities by their employer.”