‘Mark of the Beast’ hand scanner concerns worth $0, but failure to accommodate? $600,000

March 11, 2016

handscannerMost of us embrace the conveniences of modern technology. At the swipe of a fingertip, or biometric scan of an eye, face or hand we can unlock everything from a smartphone to high security areas in the workplace.

But as employers increasingly incorporate biometric scans into everyday functions like time-and-attendance recordkeeping, they must also consider the suspicions and fears of their employees when those concerns implicate religious or other Title VII considerations.

While biometric scans raise the Orwellian specter of “Big Brother” for some workers, other employees view the introduction of such technology as a direct threat to their eternal souls.

The failure of employers to accommodate those religious concerns can have costly consequences as illustrated by a federal district court decision in EEOC v. Consol Energy Inc. et al., 2016 WL 538478 (N.D. W.Va. Feb. 9, 2016).

The court upheld a $600,000 jury award to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Beverly R. Butcher Jr., a coal miner who refused to use a biometric hand scanner to clock in and out of work.

Butcher believed the scanner, implemented as part of the employer’s time and attendance policy, represented the “Mark of the Beast” as prophesied in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament.

He requested a religious exemption, contending he feared damnation from the scanner’s use because it served as a system of identification and collection for the Christian Antichrist to identify his followers.

At the time of his request, Consol had a method of bypassing the hand scanner for miners who were physically incapable of scanning their hands. But the company refused Butcher’s request and instead presented him with a copy of its progressive disciplinary policy, which provided for possible discharge after four missed hand scans.

In response, Butcher elected to retire rather than face enforcement of the disciplinary policy against him.

The EEOC filed a civil suit on his behalf against the coal company, alleging the defendants’ failure to provide a religious accommodation amounted to religious discrimination under Title VII.

Rejecting a post-trial challenge to the damages award, Judge Frederick P. Stamp Jr. said the EEOC presented sufficient evidence the plaintiff believed the use of the hand scanner was “a showing of allegiance to the Antichrist.”

Moreover, given the availability of an accommodation that bypassed the hand scanner, Judge Stamp concluded the employers deliberately failed to provide the requested accommodation.

Additionally, he determined Butcher’s right to arbitration under the collective bargaining agreement was irrelevant because arbitration would merely provide a different forum for the plaintiff to bring his claim.