Aurora Pro Services, a North Carolina-based firm offering roofing, plumbing and other home repair services, has agreed to pay a $50,000 settlement to two employees who claimed they were terminated after refusing to attend daily “cult-like” Christian prayer meetings.

In an announcement from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the company agreed last week to settle, which was first brought to the agency’s attention last year, resulting in the EEOC filing a religious harassment, discrimination and retaliation lawsuit in June 2022.

As part of the settlement, the company also agreed to be supervised under a three-year consent decree prohibiting the firm from “…discriminating and retaliating against employees and will put into place a new anti-discrimination, non-retaliation, and religious accommodation policy” and train all managers and employees, the EEOC said.

“Federal law protects employees from having to choose between their sincerely held religious beliefs and their jobs,” Melinda C. Dugas, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District, said in a statement. 

“Employers who sponsor prayer meetings in the workplace have a legal obligation to accommodate employees whose personal religious beliefs conflict with the company’s practice,” she added.

EEOC Logo.pngOscar D. Lopez, the company’s owner, has not publicly commented on the settlement or the allegations.  

The EEOC complaint alleged Aurora created a “hostile work environment” by requiring former employees John McGaha, a construction manager, and Mackenzie Saunders, a customer service representative, to attend daily Christian prayer meetings as a condition of their employment, court documents said.

The news website Law& reported that neither McGaha nor Saunders is Christian, the former being an atheist and his colleague an agnostic. 

The lawsuit claimed that when McGaha requested to be excused from the daily prayer meetings, Aurora cut his wages in half and subsequently terminated fired him; Saunders was fired after she declined to attend the meetings.

“Attendance at the prayer meetings was mandatory for employees and was a condition of employment regardless of the employee’s own religious beliefs or affiliations,” the lawsuit said. “During the prayer meetings, employees stood in a circle, while the owner and others read Bible scripture and Christian devotionals.”

During the sessions, the leader also solicited prayer requests from employees.

“Prayers were sometimes requested and offered for poor performing employees, who were identified by name,” according to the lawsuit. “The prayer meetings also briefly addressed business matters at the close, but the meetings were primarily religious in nature.”

McGaha initially attended the prayer meetings, but “as the meetings grew more religious in nature and longer in duration, they became less tolerable for Mr. McGaha due to the religious conflict,” court documents said.

“McGaha privately asked the owner to be excused from attending portions of the daily prayer meetings that pertained to religion because it conflicted with his personal religious beliefs, Atheism,” the document said.

His request was denied, and told, “all employees were required to participate in the prayer meetings, and that it would be in his ‘best interest’ to do so.”

During the meetings, the owner prayed and recited scripture from the Bible, the lawsuit said.

“Ms. Saunders describes the behavior as ‘ranting,'” the lawsuit said. “Ms. Saunders began to feel as though the meetings became ‘cult-like’ after the owner required everyone to recite the Catholic version of the Lord’s Prayer in unison.”

Court documents said the owner enforced “mandatory” attendance; Saunders was quoted saying she witnessed the owner reprimand employees for not attending.

“The owner’s reputation around the office was that he was short-tempered and confrontational, which further exacerbated the hostile religious environment,” the lawsuit said.

Video aired by CBS Greensboro affiliate WFMY News 2 shows the owner stating, “You have to participate. If you do not participate, that is okay. You don’t have to work here. You are getting paid to be here.”

Saunders was fired after not attending the meetings for a couple of weeks.

“The owner told Ms. Saunders she was being discharged because she was ‘not a good fit’ for the company,” the lawsuit said.