Image via Shutterstock
Image via Shutterstock

“When a construction manager asked to be excused from the prayer portion of the meetings in the fall of 2020, the defendant company refused to accommodate the employee’s religious beliefs (atheist), cut his pay, and fired him,” a release from the EEOC states.

Imagine this: Your employer holds a prayer meeting before work every day. Attendance is mandatory. And, if you object to participating, your boss could fire you. 

That’s the alleged situation in a federal court complaint brought last week by the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal agency charged with enforcing civil rights laws against discrimination in the workplace. 

The EEOC’s complaint was filed against Aurora Pro Services, a Greensboro-based HVAC contractor and the complaint was filed in the US District Court there.

Before the EEOC stepped in, a video went viral in which an employee at the construction company tried to get out of going to a morning prayer meeting. “You don’t have to believe in God, you don’t have to like it,” the company representative said in the video, according to the Daily Dot. “You have to participate. If you don’t, that’s OK, you don’t have to work here.”

In a news release, the EEOC elaborated on what it believes happened to that employee and another who didn’t want to participate in the meetings:

The meetings were conducted by the company owner and included Bible readings, Christian devotionals, and solicitation of prayer requests from employees. Aurora’s owner took roll before some of the meetings and reprimanded employees who did not attend. When a construction manager asked to be excused from the prayer portion of the meetings in the fall of 2020, the defendant company refused to accommodate the employee’s religious beliefs (atheist), cut his pay, and fired him. A few months later, in January 2021, Aurora terminated a customer service representative who stopped attending the prayer meetings because the meetings conflicted with her religious beliefs (agnostic).

As the EEOC says, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace.

In a statement to WFDD, company owner Oscar Lopez defended his beliefs: “We are a Christian company that encourages prayer and encourages employees to openly express their Christian faith and disciple one another, we believe in the power of the Gospel. I will die on a hill for our beliefs because Christ died a horrible death on a hill for our sins. We hope that when all of this is said and done, more companies will stand up for their Christian beliefs and bring the Gospel into their workplace without fear or shame.”

Lopez also said no employee has ever been or will ever be terminated for refusing to believe in Christ or refusing to pray.

The EEOC rarely files complaints against employers for religious coercion, according to 2020 numbers examined by the National Law Review. Unfair retaliation against employees, however, makes up the bulk of the EEOC’s complaints against employers.