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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 attend Alcoholics Anonymous because of its program’s religious content, the agency said Tuesday.
The EEOC said the pilot had been diagnosed with alcohol dependency and lost the medical certificate issued to him by the Federal Aviation Administration.
One of the requirements of United’s substance abuse treatment 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 U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey, United’s program requires that participants complete at least the first five steps of AA’s 12-step program, three of which require acknowledging “a Power greater than ourselves” and “God.”
It said all of the 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 substitute regular attendance at 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 FAA medical certificate in order to fly again.
The airline was charged with violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, under which employers must make a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs, so long as doing so does not impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business, the EEOC said.
Under terms of the consent decree that resolves the lawsuit, United will pay the pilot $305,000 in back pay and damages and reinstate him into its substance abuse treatment program while allowing him to attend a non-12 step peer recovery program.
The company also agreed to accept religious accommodation requests in its treatment program, institute a new religious accommodation policy and train its employees.
United Airlines did not respond to a request for comment.