United Airlines to pay $305,000 to a Buddhist pilot who refused to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings
United Airlines will pay $305,000 to a Buddhist pilot who refused to attend AA on religious grounds.
That decision meant he lost his medical certificate and was no longer permitted to fly.
United agreed to accommodate staff from non-Christian faiths in its program in the future.
United Airlines will pay $305,000 to a Buddhist pilot who refused to attend meetings organised by the Christian-focused Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program.
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said in a press release that the airline discriminated against the pilot, who was diagnosed with alcohol dependency, on religious grounds when it failed to offer an alternative path after he refused to attend AA meetings citing its religious undertones.
The man, who had been a pilot for 30 years, lost the medical certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after his diagnosis. A step to regaining the certification in United’s HIMS occupational substance abuse treatment program involves attending AA meetings.
He objected, citing the religious aspects of AA’s 12-step program, which has its origins in a Christian group, per the group’s FAQ page. United rejected his suggestion of using the Buddhism-based peer support group Refuge Recovery as an alternative, the commission said.
The decision violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, per the commission, which sued the airline on the man’s behalf in 2020, The Associated Press reported at the time.
To resolve the lawsuit, United will pay the pilot $305,000 in back pay and damages and reinstate him into its HIMS program while allowing him to attend a non-12-step peer recovery program. It will also accept religious accommodations in its program in the future.
“Employers have the affirmative obligation to modify their policies to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs,” said EEOC New York regional attorney Jeffrey Burstein. “If 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.”
A spokesperson for United told Insider: “Regarding the EEOC, safety is our top priority and we have the highest confidence in the HIMS program, considered the gold standard within our industry for the monitoring of substance abuse.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.
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