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Can Forcing an Employee to Use Technology Violate Their Religious Freedom?

In 2012, Consolidation Coal Company installed an attendance tracking system for payroll purposes at a mine in West Virginia. The system was a biometric hand scanner that creates and stores electronic information about an individual’s hand geometry for purposes of future identification. Mr. Butcher, an evangelical Christian, who had worked at the mine for thirty-five (35) years, stated that his religious beliefs prohibited him from submitting to the scanning and requested a religious accommodation. Mr. Butcher gave his manager a letter explaining his beliefs about the relationship between hand scanning technology and the Mark of the Beast. As discussed in the Book of Revelation, the Bible describes, “a beast that has authority on earth during end times and forces all people, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads.” (Rev. 13:16-17). Some Christians believe that technology will be used to implement the mark. Mr. Butcher proposed that the mine allow him to continue submitting his time and attendance manually as he had previously done, or that he be permitted to clock in and out with his supervisor.

Mr. Butcher’s manager responded to the request by handing Mr. Butcher a letter written by the scanner’s vendor discussing the vendor’s interpretation of the Book of Revelation and stating that the Bible only mentioned markings on the right hand. The letter concluded by assuring Mr. Butcher that the vendor’s scanner product does not, in fact, assign the Mark of the Beast. The managers proposed that Mr. Butcher submit to scanning his left hand turned palm up. Mr. Butcher refused stating that his beliefs prohibited him from scanning either hand. The company persisted stating that he would be subject to disciplinary action if he refused to scan his hand. Ultimately, Mr. Butcher chose to retire involuntarily rather than violate his beliefs.

After retiring, Mr. Butcher filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). The EEOC filed a lawsuit on Mr. Butcher’s behalf alleging religious discrimination and failure to make religious accommodations. Title VII makes it unlawful to discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of such individual’s religion. Religion includes traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, as well as, religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or that seem illogical or unreasonable to others. The accommodation aspect falls under a discrimination claim where the employee seeks an adjustment to a neutral work rule as it infringes on the employee’s ability to practice his or her religion. The standard in religious accommodation cases is not whether the company officials agree with or share the employee’s religious beliefs, but whether the employer can provide an accommodation without incurring an undue hardship.

According to the EEOC, at least two (2) other mine employees were permitted exemptions from the scanning due to missing fingers and were allowed to submit their time and attendance by other means. Therefore, the mine is unlikely to be able to argue that allowing Mr. Butcher to submit his time by other means would cause an undue hardship. Mr. Butcher’s case is still pending in the Federal Court in West Virginia.

If you have a question regarding a religious accommodation in your workplace, contact us at www.BryanKuhnLaw.com/ to discuss your legal rights.

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