Three former employees have sued a New York health care provider, claiming company officials retaliated against them for refusing to embrace the “Onionhead” religion.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit Wednesday based on the women’s claims against United Health Programs of America and its parent company, Cost Containment Group.
The women said they were forced out of their jobs because they refused to take part in workplace religious rituals – such as prayer circles, thanking God for their jobs, and saying “I love you” to managers and co-workers.
Company officials also required employees to pray, discuss personal matters with colleagues, read spiritual texts, burn candles, and keep dim lighting in the workplace, the suit claims.
The lawsuit claims company officials required employees to participate in a belief system called “Harnessing Happiness,” more commonly known as “Onionhead,” which was developed two decades ago by a mother and daughter to help promote more peaceful and successful lives.
According to the Harnessing Happiness website, the pair developed the practices for adults – but the mother created the Onionhead character after her 2-year-old autistic grandson asked for a version for children.
“Approximately 1 in 68 children have been identified with autism or spectrum disorder,” the website claims. “Therefore, it is extremely important for the mainstream to learn a new way of communicating and coexisting with these souls.”
The suit identifies a cost containment official, “Denali,” as the leader of Onionhead practices at the company.
Former employees Elizabeth Ontaneda, Francine Pennisi, and Faith Pabon said Denali retaliated against them when they balked at attending one-on-one sessions with her to discuss “divine plans” and “moral codes.”
Pennisi said she spoke out against Onionhead at a company meeting, suggesting the practices violated her Catholic beliefs, and she claims she was moved from her office and replaced by Denali with a large statue of Buddha.
The suit claims Denali blamed “demons” for Ontaneda’s and Pennisi’s resistance to Onionhead.
All three women were demoted and later fired, the suit claims.
Denali Jordan, who identified herself as an independent consultant to the company, denied Onionhead was a religion.
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