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Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Mark of the Beast: The Rest of the Story

By: Thomas Eden

Consolidation Coal Company in West Virginia installed an attendance tracking system for payroll purposes at their Robinson Run Mine that requires employees to electronically sign-in using a biometric hand scanner. This technology creates and stores electronic information about an individual’s hand geometry for purposes of future identification.

Employee Beverly Butcher is an Evangelical Christian with 35 years of service at the Mine. When faced with the biometric logging in, he stated that he had a genuinely held religious belief that would not permit him to submit to biometric hand scanning. Butcher then provided his manager with a letter that he wrote discussing his genuinely held religious beliefs about the relationship between hand scanning technology and the Mark of the Beast and antichrist discussed in the Bible, and requested exemption from hand scanning because of his religious belief.

His managers later responded by handing Butcher a letter written by its scanner vendor, Recognition Systems, Inc., addressed to “To Whom it May Concern.” The vendor’s letter 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” 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.

Butcher proposed that he continue submitting his time and attendance manually as he had previously done, or that he be permitted to check in and check out with his supervisor. At a later meeting, his managers proposed that Butcher should submit to hand scanning of his left hand turned palm up rather than his right hand. Butcher rejected their offer stating that he is prohibited by his religion from submitting to scanning of either hand. The managers declined to accommodate Butcher’s request to be exempted from the biometric sign-in telling him that he would be subject to disciplinary action if he refused to use the biometric hand scanning system.

Butcher promptly retired and specifically informed his managers that he was retiring involuntarily, telling them that he was retiring under protest and felt that he had no choice but to retire because of their refusal to grant an exemption from biometric hand scanning.

At least two persons employed at the Robinson Run Mine at the time that Butcher requested religious accommodation were permitted exemptions from biometric hand scanning due to missing fingers. These two persons were permitted to submit their time and attendance by other means.

After hearing the above story, a jury awarded Butcher nearly $600,000 in the EEOC’s suit filed in West Virginia U.S. District Court alleging religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The rest of the story is that this week the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the jury’s award rejecting consol’s “Mark of the Beast” appeal saying that “it is neither the employer’s nor the court’s place to question the correctness or even the plausibility of Butcher’s understanding of religious doctrine”.

Common Sense Counsel: A reasonable religious accommodation is any adjustment to the work environment that will allow the employee to practice his/her religion and still work. An employer might accommodate an employee's religious beliefs or practices by allowing flexible scheduling, voluntary substitutions or swaps, or modification of login requirements.  Religious discrimination is a hot button issue for the EEOC. Have a well drafted employee handbook, dress code, job description with essential functions and be in an “accommodating” mood when employees approach you quoting scripture. Engaging in a bible sword drill with your employees in the interactive meeting is not a wise strategy.