Workers Fired for Refusing to Worship Onionhead

onionheadA Long Island health care company is being sued by three employees who allege that they were fired for not participating in a religion known as “Onionhead” which required workers to embrace a belief system of “harnessing happiness” and engage in bizarre rituals.

Courthouse News is reporting that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) took on the case of the United Health Programs of America, Inc. and Cost Containment Group of Sayosset on behalf of three terminated employees – Elizabeth Ontaneda, Francine Pennisi, and Faith Pabon. The three claim that they were forced to resign after refusing to participate in Onionhead-related spiritual activity.

The Onionhead religion is promoted by the Harnessing Happiness Foundation which claims to be devoted to ending autism, violence, suicide, etc. by promoting a series of colloquial “Wisdoms” for people to live by.  According to the website, the Onionhead religion was created 20 years ago by a mother and daughter who meant it for adults; however, they were inspired by a two-year old relative to make their message more kid-friendly and created the Onionhead character.

Onionhead is “a medium to express peeling our feelings,” the site explains. They call the character 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. In turn, we then approach life from a place of our wellness rather than a place of our wounds.”

This might be an okay philosophy, but forcing it on others and punishing those who resist is one of the attributes of a cult.

onionhead 2And according to the lawsuit, this is exactly what happened to the three named plaintiffs with the abuse coming from the religion’s leader, a woman named only as “Denali” in the suit, who worked at the company and who forced employees to adopt a variety of practices.

“Onionhead related religious practices … have included praying, reading spiritual texts, discussing personal matters with colleagues and management, burning candles, and keeping dim lighting in the workplace,” asserts the suit, which was filed Wednesday in Long Island Federal Court.

When Francine Pennisi, a Catholic, refused to participate in these practices, she was demoted to another position and made to answer telephones. Meanwhile, Denali allegedy put a Buddha statue in her empty office. Pennisi was eventually fired.

Another plaintiff says she was also demoted to the “customer service floor” after refusing to participate in Onionhead prayers and was also eventually fired.

The third plaintiff says she was fired for refusing to participate in prayer meetings during a work-related trip to a spa in Connecticut.

All three employees say they know of other employees who were fired for refusing to help with fund-raising efforts for the Onionhead religion.

In a phone interview with the New York Daily News, Denali Jordan claimed the three women were being influenced by demons.  “This (complaint) has been going on for years and it is based on untruths and money. The EEOC just likes going after companies and causing problems. There will be something good that comes from this that helps others…. It hurts my soul…. From my heart to yours, thank you for calling.”

The company’s lawyer, David Sutton, says the lawsuit is “completely devoid of merit” and expects that it will be dismissed.

The EEOC sees it much differently and is alleging that “Aggrieved individuals were forced to participate in the above-described religious practices against their will and some were forced into involuntary resignation as the only way to avoid taking part in those practices.”

The Commission, which works to stop religious discrimination in the workplace, is seeking back pay and other compensation for the plaintiffs.

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