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A federal appeals court has affirmed a $586,861 jury award to a mining worker who felt forced to retire when he refused to use a biometric hand scanner for religious reasons — saying it related to the biblical “mark of the beast” — in a case filed on his behalf by the EEOC.
In Monday’s ruling in U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Consol Energy Inc.; Consolidation Coal Co., the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, refused Canonsburg, Pennsylvania-based Consol’s motions seeking judgment as matter of law, a new trial and amendment of the lower court’s findings regarding lost wages in the case.
The appeals court also affirmed the refusal by the U.S. District Court in Clarksburg, West Virginia, to grant the EEOC’s motion for the miner, Beverly R. Butcher Jr., to be awarded punitive damages in the widely publicized case.
Mr. Butcher had worked for Consol for 37 years when the company began requiring workers to use a newly installed biometric hand scanner to track employee time and attendance, according to the ruling.
“For Butcher, however, participating in the hand-scanner system would have presented a threat to core religious commitments,” said the ruling.
His understanding of the biblical Book of Revelation was that the “mark of the beast” brands followers of the Antichrist, allowing the Antichrist to manipulate them, and Mr. Butcher feared using the hand-scanning system would result in his being so marked. The situation culminated in Mr. Butcher’s retirement.
He subsequently learned the company had permitted two employees with hand injuries who could not be enrolled with a scanner with either hand to enter their personnel numbers on a keypad attached to the system instead.
The EEOC filed suit on Mr. Butcher’s behalf in the District Court. The 2015 jury verdict was for lost wages, benefits and compensatory damages. The District Court ruled against both Consol’s and the EEOC’s motions in the case, and both appealed.
The District Court properly disagreed with Consol’s contention that there was no conflict between Mr. Butcher’s beliefs and its requirement that he use the hand scanner system, said a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel.
“At bottom, Consol’s failure to recognize this conflict — in its dealings with Butcher as well as its litigation of this case — appears to reflect its conviction that Butcher’s religious beliefs, though sincere, are mistaken: that the Mark of the Beast is not, as Butcher believes, associated with mere participation in a scanner identification system,” said the ruling, in denying Consol’s motion for judgment as a matter of law.
“But all of this, of course, is beside the point. It is not Consol’s place as an employer, nor ours as a court, to question the correctness or even the plausibility of Butcher’s religious understandings,” said the ruling.
On the EEOC’s motion for punitive damages, the panel said these are granted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only under limited circumstances.
It said it agreed with the District Court that the EEOC’s evidence in the case failed to meet the standard of showing Consol had acted with “reckless indifference” to Mr. Butcher’s religious accommodation rights.
A federal district court in Cincinnati has refused to dismiss a case in which a hospital customer service representative who was fired for refusing to get a flu shot contended she was entitled to religious accommodation because of her veganism.