Don’t Quarrel Over Scripture

By Bill Wright

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a jury verdict in favor of the EEOC in a Title VII religious discrimination claim. At issue was the use of a biometric scanner as a time clock. EEOC v. Consol Energy, Inc. et al., No. 16-1406 (4th Cir. June 12, 2017) The employee objected that allowing the company to scan his hand – either hand – would result in his receiving the Mark of the Beast. (See Revelation 13:16-17.) The company provided the employee with a prepared interpretation of the Book of Revelation from the manufacturer of the biometric device. The manufacturer explained (1) the device left no mark, or “Mark,” and (2) employees could safely use their left hands as the Beast would Mark only a person’s right hand or forehead. The company therefore insisted that the employee scan his left hand.  Oh, of course, employees with injured hands could just input their employee number, but the company did not offer – in an internal email, actually refused – to offer this accommodation to the religious dissenter.  The company threatened discipline if he did not scan one hand or the other; and the employee resigned under protest.

Apparently the scriptural disagreement and evidence related to constructive discharge were the main themes of the trial. There was no disagreement over the sincerity of the employee’s belief, only over whether he was right.

It seems elementary, but a U.S. court is not going to rule, or instruct a jury to determine, authoritative interpretations of scripture. As an employer, don’t get into a dispute of biblical proportions over a simple timekeeping accommodation.  If it had been anything more than de minimis, Title VII would not have required the employer to provide the accommodation.