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United Airlines to Pay $305,000 to Settle Alcoholic Buddhist Pilot Lawsuit

United Airlines to Pay $305,000 to Settle Alcoholic Buddhist Pilot Lawsuit

United Airlines has agreed to pay $305,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of an alcoholic Buddhist pilot who was forced by the airline to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings rooted in the Christian faith.

The case was brought in July 2020 on behalf of veteran pilot David Disbrow who had been flying for United for more than 30 years when he was diagnosed with alcohol dependency in 2017.

The Federal Aviation Administration stripped Disbrow of his medical certificate the following year and the long road to Disbow getting his licence involved him successfully completing an occupational substance abuse treatment program designed specifically for pilots.

Some airlines have their own substance abuse programs, and the one United developed required pilots to attend regular Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

The famed AA 12-step program includes specific references to a Christian God and acknowledgement that a “greater Power exists”. As a Buddhist, Disbrow didn’t share these beliefs and felt uncomfortable beginning every session, held in a church, with a Christian prayer.

Disbrow sought permission from United to swap out the AA program with regular attendance at a Buddhism-based peer support group, but the EEOC claims United refused to accommodate his religious objection.

As a result, Disbrow couldn’t get back his pilot’s medical licence and was barred from returning to his career.

Under a consent decree, United has agreed to pay Disbrow $305,000 in back pay and will reinstate him on a substance abuse program that doesn’t involve attendance at AA meetings.

“Employers have the affirmative obligation to modify their policies to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs,” explained the EEOC’s New York Regional Attorney Jeffrey Burstein after the lawsuit was resolved.

Responding to the outcome of the case brought by the EEOC, a spokesperson for United said: “Safety is our top priority, and we have the highest confidence in the HIMS program, considered the gold standard within our industry for the monitoring of substance abuse”.

View Comments (4)
  • Where was the EEOC when christians were fired for not getting an undertested and risky vaccine against their religious beliefs, Christians are forced to go to diversity and gender seminars against their beliefs where disagreeing with the premise is not allowed, or bakers are bankrupted for not baking a cake? All the institutions and agencies will always go the distance to promote and protect Atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and gays but will bend over backward to deny Christians and Straight people the same protections.

    United may have been wrong in this case by being inflexible, although, they may have feared such a deviation was not in compliance with the FAA.

  • What I get from this article is drink your head off; endanger thousands of passengers and crew members over the years; and get rewarded over $300,000 dollars for willfully violating your employers rules. This is outrageous. The FAA should strip this jerk of any flying licenses including private aircraft.

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