Employer Fined by EEOC for Requiring a Buddhist Employee to Attend AA Meetings

Nov 08, 2022

Employer Fined by EEOC for Requiring a Buddhist Employee to Attend AA Meetings

On November 8, 2022, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a statement [hyperlink to statement: https://www.eeoc.gov/newsroom/united-airlines-pay-305000-settle-eeoc-religious-discrimination-lawsuit] that United Airlines will pay a Buddhist pilot $305,000 and will provide other relief to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit.

The pilot, who has been flying for 30 years, lost his medical certification to fly after he was diagnosed with alcohol dependency. United Airlines required pilots diagnosed with alcohol dependency to attend substance abuse treatment, including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. AA’s 12-step program originated from Christian doctrines and is still widely associated with Christian teachings. The pilot, being Buddhist, asked United Airlines to allow him to attend an alternative treatment program, Refuge Recovery, that did not have the same religious connection. United Airlines refused and the pilot filed a lawsuit with the EEOC.

A United Airlines spokesperson told media outlets “safety is our top priority and we have the highest confidence in the [treatment] program, considered the gold standard within our industry for the monitoring of substance abuse.” We can all agree substance abuse treatment is extremely important (especially when it comes to pilots!), but as the EEOC’s representative, Jeffrey Burstein, points out “[e]mployers have the affirmative obligation to modify their policies to accommodate employees' religious beliefs.” Burstein also commented "[i]f they require their employees to attend AA as part of a rehabilitation program, they must make sure that they allow for alternatives for their employees who have religious objections to AA."

Despite United’s good intentions to help their employee with his substance abuse problems, United still has to make sure they are abiding by the law by accommodating the religious differences of their employees. You can read more about the case here[hyperlink: https://apnews.com/press-release/pr-newswire/lifestyle-6336b2ed325bf20791a596ae2d5edd0c]. If you believe your religious freedoms or practices are not being respected by your employer, reach out to our firm [website link to contact us form].

AA and Refuge Recovery are great programs for helping individuals with substance abuse problems, and if you or a loved one is struggling, either or both are good resources for treatment.