The Volokh Conspiracy

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The "number of the beast," hand scanners (to clock in and out), and a $150,000 damages award to employee


Hieronymous Bosch's "St. John the Evangelist on Patmos"; thanks to Wikipedia for the image.

Here's the Equal Economic Opportunity Commission press release from when the case was filed:

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Beverly R. Butcher, Jr. had worked as a general inside laborer at the companies' mine in Mannington, W.V., for over 35 years when the mining companies required employees to use a newly installed biometric hand scanner to track employee time and attendance. Butcher repeatedly told mining officials that submitting to a biometric hand scanner violated his sincerely held religious beliefs as an Evangelical Christian. He also wrote the mining superintendent and human resources manager a letter explaining the relationship between hand-scanning technology and the Mark of the Beast and antichrist discussed in the Book of Revelation of the New Testament and requesting an exemption from the hand scanning based on his religious beliefs.

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 charges that Butcher was forced to retire because the companies refused to provide an accommodation to his religious beliefs….

"In religious accommodation cases, the standard is not whether company officials agree with or share the employee's religious beliefs," said Philadelphia regional attorney Debra M. Lawrence. "Instead, the focus is on whether the employer can provide an accommodation without incurring an undue hardship." …

EEOC District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. added, "In this case, the mining companies … violated federal law when they obstinately refused to consider easy alternatives to their new hand-scanning time and attendance system to accommodate Mr. Butcher's religious beliefs."

The court's opinion letting the case proceed notes that the scanner had a punch-in option, by which employees could punch in their codes. This might have been the "easy" alternative that the jury found the employer had, though the EEOC's complaint notes that Butcher's proposed alternatives were "that he continue submitting his time and attendance manually as he had previously done before Defendants' adoption of biometric hand scanning technology, or that he be permitted to check in and check out with his supervisor."

The complaint also notes that the employer gave Butcher a letter from the "scanner vendor, Recognition Systems, Inc.," which

discussed the vendor's interpretation of Chapter 13, Verse 16 of the Book of Revelation contained in the Bible; pointed out that the text of that verse references the Mark of the Beast only on the right hand and forehead; and suggests that persons with concerns about taking the Mark of the Beast "be enrolled" (meaning, use the hand scanner) with their left hand and palm facing up. The letter concludes by assuring the reader that the vendor's scanner product does not, in-fact, assign the Mark of the Beast.

This might well be a good way to try to persuade objectors that their objections are unfounded—but if an objector disagrees with the vendor's understanding of the Book of Revelation, it is his sincere beliefs and not the beliefs of others (whether vendors, religious leaders, or other coreligionists) that count. To be sure, they don't automatically trump the employer's rules; but, under Title VII's duty of reasonable accommodation, they do entitle the employee to an accommodation if such an accommodation wouldn't impose a material burden on the employer.

Now, the Exponent Telegram (Clarksville, WV) (Matt Harvey) reports that the jury entered a $150,000 compensatory damages verdict in favor of Butcher. (The judge will add back pay and front pay to that.) The jury must therefore have concluded that the employee's religious objections were indeed sincere, and that the employer could have accommodated them with only minimal effort.

Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer.