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 attend Alcoholics Anonymous because of the program’s religious content, the agency said on Tuesday.
The EEOC said the pilot had been diagnosed with alcohol dependence and lost the medical certificate issued to him by the Federal Aviation Administration.
One of the requirements of United’s substance abuse program for pilots with such problems who want to obtain new FAA medical certificates is that they regularly attend AA.
According to the lawsuit filed by the EEOC in US District Court in Newark, New Jersey, United̵7;s program requires participants to complete at least the first five steps of AA’s 12-step program, three of which require acknowledging “a power greater than we themselves” and “God.”
It said that all AA meetings near the pilot were held in churches and began with a prayer, with its conception of God based on a monotheistic belief in God as a supreme being.
The EEOC said the pilot objected to AA’s religious content and sought to replace regular attendance in a Buddhism-based peer support group.
The agency said United refused to accommodate his religious objection, and as a result he was unable to obtain a new medical certificate from the FAA to fly again.
The airline was accused of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs, so long as it does not cause an undue hardship on the employer’s operations, the EEOC said.
Under the consent decree settling the lawsuit, United will pay the pilot $305,000 in back wages and damages and reinstate him in its substance abuse treatment program while allowing him to participate in a non-12-step peer recovery program.
The company also agreed to accept religious accommodation requests in its treatment program, implement a new religious accommodation policy and train its employees.
United Airlines did not respond to a request for comment.