United Airlines settles EEOC religious discrimination lawsuit

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United Airlines Inc. will pay $305,000 to settle a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a Buddhist pilot who refused to participate in Alcoholics Anonymous due to content religion from its program, the agency said on Tuesday.

The EEOC said the pilot was diagnosed with alcohol dependence and lost the medical certificate issued to him by the Federal Aviation Administration.

One of the requirements of United’s drug treatment program for pilots with such problems who wish to obtain new FAA medical certificates is that they attend AA regularly.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey, United’s program requires participants to complete at least the first five steps of AA’s 12-step program, three of which require recognition “a power greater than ourselves” and “God.”

He said all AA meetings near the pilot were held in churches and began with prayer, with his concept of God based on a monotheistic belief in God as the supreme being.

The EEOC said the pilot opposed AA’s religious content and sought to replace regular attendance at a Buddhism-based peer support group.

The agency said United refused to address his religious objection and therefore could not obtain a new medical certificate from the FAA to fly again.

The airline has been accused of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, under which employers must make reasonable accommodation for an employee’s sincere religious beliefs, so long as it does not require not an undue hardship to the employer’s business, the EEOC said.

Under the terms of the consent decree that resolves the lawsuit, United will pay the pilot $305,000 in back wages and damages and reinstate him in its drug treatment program while allowing him to participate in a recovery program through peers not in 12 steps.

The company has also committed to accepting requests for religious accommodation in its treatment program, instituting a new religious accommodation policy and training its employees.

United Airlines did not respond to a request for comment.


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