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Aurora Pro Services accused to firing two workers for not attending prayer circles, feds say

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Two North Carolina workers allege they were fired for not participating in daily company prayer sessions, according to a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Monday.

John McGaha and Mackenzie Saunders claim that their former employer, Aurora Pro Services in Greensboro, created a hostile work environment because they refused to attend mandatory Christian-based “prayer meetings.”

The lawsuit comes after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a former high school football coach who was disciplined by a Washington state school board for praying at midfield after a football game, a decision some religious liberties advocates hail as a victory for freedom of religious expression.

The EEOC lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Greensboro, on Monday, says Aurora Pro Services, which has between 11 and 50 employees, did not provide religious accommodation for the two non-Christian plaintiffs, discriminatorily discharged them and punitively diminished McGaha’s wages.

Aurora Pro Services didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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The EEOC alleges that Aurora Pro Services, which provides residential contract services, such as roofing, plumbing and heating, demanded that its employees stand in a circle for prayer as the owner read scriptures and Bible verses. After McGaha asked if he could avoid the activity while Saunders skipped them, they were fired even though they had satisfactory job performances, the complaint states.

Session participants would sometimes request prayers for poor-performing employees and business matters woven with biblical text and references, according to the lawsuit.

McGaha, who worked for the company from June to September of 2020 as a construction manager, noticed that the length of the prayer meetings increased from about 20 minutes to 45 minutes or more as time passed.

He attended the prayers circles shortly after starting the job but began to find them intolerable because of how religious they became.

In late August 202o, McGaha asked the owner if he could exclude himself from the daily prayers because they were conflicting with his own beliefs of atheism, but his request was met with a response that it was in his “best interest” to attend, according to the complaint.

McGaha made the same request a few weeks later, only to be told that his feelings and beliefs about the prayer meetings didn’t matter and that his presence was mandatory.

According to the lawsuit, at one prayer circle meeting, the owner told McGaha, “If you do not participate, that is okay, you don’t have to work here. You are getting paid to be here.”

Shortly after, McGaha received an email informing him that his weekly pay would be reduced by 50 percent.

He was fired shortly after.

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Saunders, who is agnostic, said the owner required people to recite the Catholic version of the Lord’s Prayer in unison and made them listen to his ranting, according to the complaint.

She was fired about two to three weeks after she stopped going to the meetings, the lawsuit alleges, with the owner telling her she was “not a good fit” for the company. The complaint states that the owner’s reason for Saunders’s termination is “pretext for retaliation.”

Saunders worked as a customer service representative for the company from around November 2020 to January 2021.

The attorney representing McGaha and Saunders declined to comment on the complaint.

However, Melinda C. Dugas, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte district, said in a Tuesday statement announcing the lawsuit that federal law shields employees from choosing between their beliefs and livelihoods.

“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,” she said.

The EEOC is requesting a jury trial, an injunction that would stop the company from “coercing” employees to participate in prayer and backpay for plaintiffs.