Atheist worker fired after refusing to attend company’s Christian prayer in NC, feds say

·3 min read
Marta Lavandier/AP

A home repair company’s mandatory daily Christian prayer sessions for its employees were becoming “less tolerable” for an atheist construction manager who refused to continue attending — resulting in his firing in North Carolina, federal officials said in a lawsuit.

His boss told him “he did not have to believe in God, and he did not have to like the prayer meetings, but he had to participate” before the worker was fired in the fall of 2020, according to a complaint filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the Greensboro-based business. This came after his pay was cut in half.

The worker was asked to lead a prayer session on one occasion, despite making his beliefs known, prior to losing his job with Aurora Pro Services, the EEOC said.

Now the company is being sued for religious discrimination and is accused of punishing workers who did not want to attend the meetings, which also involved Bible readings and roll call, the agency said in a Tuesday, June 28, news release. The meetings were mandatory from at least June 2020.

This comes after another worker, a customer service representative, was fired in January 2021 after she felt the meetings, which went on for nearly an hour, were becoming “cult-like” and stopped attending due to her agnostic beliefs, according to the lawsuit. An agnostic individual does not commit to any view regarding the existence of a higher religious power.

McClatchy News contacted the company for comment on June 28 and was awaiting a response.

On its website, the Aurora Pro Services states, “We’ll never hire rude people, and we will get rid of anybody not using their best manners.”

The mandatory meetings

The company’s owner, who was known for his “short-tempered and confrontational” nature, held the prayer meetings as part of the “business model,” according to a complaint. This was a basis to remain employed.

However, the requirement is not advertised on the company website’s career page that lists what is expected of those applying to work there.

The daily prayer sessions involved workers gathering in a circle as the company’s owner or another individual would pray, the complaint said. Occasionally, the leader of the session would ask for prayer requests.

Sometimes, these requests were “offered for poor performing employees” who were called out for mistakes in front of their colleagues, according to the EEOC.

When it came to the meeting’s Bible readings, the former customer service representative said it came off as “ranting” and eventually, her boss began having everyone chant “the Catholic version of the Lord’s Prayer in unison,” the complaint said.

Before the former construction manager refused to attend the meetings entirely, he had offered to attend portions of them, according to the EEOC.

However, his boss said “it would be in his ‘best interest’” to attend the sessions in their entirety, the complaint states.

The atheist worker’s objections led to his base pay getting cut in half on Sept. 3, 2020 — from $800 to $400 per week — ahead of his firing, according to the EEOC.

The agency’s lawsuit is seeking to fine Aurora Pro Services for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects workers from religious discrimination, and award the two former workers monetary relief, the news release said.

“Employers who sponsor prayer meetings in the workplace have a legal obligation to accommodate employees whose personal religious or spiritual views conflict with the company’s practice,” Melinda C. Dugas, the attorney for the EEOC’s district in Charlotte, said in a statement.

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