Way back in 2015 I reported on a religious discrimination suit brought by the EEOC against a Pennsylvania coal company for refusing to accommodate (and forcing to retire) an Evangelical Christian who had been an employee for 35 years.
An employee for 35 years – and suddenly a problem involving his religious beliefs? Huh?
New Fangled Tech v. Religious Beliefs
It seems that the employee refused to submit to a newly-installed biometric hand scanner which tracks employee time and attendance (a device which is becoming more commonly used, and seen, for example, in FLSA cases) claiming that there was a “relationship between hand-scanning technology and the Mark of the Beast and antichrist discussed in the Book of Revelation of the New Testament.” He claimed that using a biometric hand scanner violated his religious beliefs.
His religious beliefs hadn’t changed – technology had.
Accommodating Religious Beliefs
He asked for an exemption from this hand scanning but was denied – the EEOC said that “The mining companies refused to consider alternate means of tracking Butcher’s time and attendance, such as allowing him to submit manual time records as he had done previously or reporting to his supervisor, even though the mining company had made similar exceptions to the hand scanning for two employees with missing fingers.”
The EEOC was awarded a unanimous jury verdict on behalf of the plaintiff and after a two day hearing, the federal judge awarded a total of $586,860 in lost wages and benefits and compensatory damages.
Earlier this summer, a federal appeals court “agreed with the district court that … [t]he evidence presented at trial allowed the jury to conclude that [defendant] failed to make available to a sincere religious objector the same reasonable accommodation it offered other employees, in clear violation of Title VII.”
To The Supreme Court?
Now, Law360 reports that the employer has petitioned the Supreme Court for cert – i.e., requested that the Court hear this appeal, a request rarely granted.
Indeed, the Supreme Court declined to review a case in which plaintiff was “a Fundamentalist Christian who disavowed his social security number when he turned 18 years old. … believ[ing] that his identification by any number — including a social security account number — causes him to have the ‘Mark of the Beast,’ which his religion prohibits.”
The case was dismissed because it was held that an employer does not violate Title VII by failing to accommodate an employee’s religious belief which would require the employer to violate a federal statute – in this case the Internal Revenue Code, which requires a social security number.
“This conclusion is consistent with Title VII’s text, which says nothing that might license an employer to disregard other federal statutes in the name of reasonably accommodating an employee’s religious practices,” noted the Court.
Accommodation Without Undue Hardship
Takeaway: An EEOC attorney said after the jury verdict that “In religious accommodation cases, the standard is not whether company officials agree with or share the employee’s religious beliefs. Instead, the focus is on whether the employer can provide an accommodation without incurring an undue hardship.”
And the EEOC District Director commented that “Many times when there is a conflict between an employee’s religious beliefs and a work rule, there are easy modifications to company permitting an employee to continue to work without violating his religious beliefs.”
Translation: You must provide an accommodation for an employee’s religious beliefs and practices unless it would be unduly burdensome – and often it is not.