Religious discrimination cases are dominating headlines – indeed, we are in a period right now where religious rights are frequently being weighed and balanced against other rights, including of course, employers’ rights, in an effort to accommodate religious beliefs — a societal and legal priority.
I have often written about what used to be a Title VII backwater – cases of employment discrimination based upon religion were relatively few compared to, say, harassment or retaliation. While the latter two are still more frequently seen, nonetheless religious discrimination cases are no longer rare — a variety of issues have been raised in cases relating to, for example, religious garb in the workplace; time off for religious observance or holidays; religious observance in the workplace; and plain old discrimination against people with certain religious beliefs.
One of the more interesting series of cases is illustrated by a religious discrimination suit brought by the EEOC against a Pennsylvania coal company for refusing to accommodate (and forcing to retire) an Evangelical Christian who had been an employee for 35 years. The employee refused to submit to a biometric hand scanner which tracks employee time and attendance (a device which is becoming more commonly used and seen in FLSA cases) claiming that there was a “relationship between hand-scanning technology and the Mark of the Beast and antichrist discussed in the Book of Revelation of the New Testament.” He asked for an exemption from this hand scanning based on his religious beliefs.” See my article of October 2, 2013 posted on my prior blog (which, as I’ve mentioned before, now bears my pen name “Fox,” due to my prior firm’s penchant for expunging the true byline of blog posts authored by former partners and in it’s place inserting the name of the firm).
Taylor Chapman noted in HR.BLR.com that “The applicable verse from Revelation 13:11, 16-18, states:
‘And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.… And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save that he had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.'”
Chapman commented that in the coal company case a letter from the scanner vendor “suggested it was OK [under this Biblical passage] to scan a person’s left hand, palm facing up, to avoid any religious conflict. The letter concluded by assuring the reader that the hand scanner did not give people the mark of the beast.”
In any event, as far as I know the case is still pending. Does anyone have any more recent information?
Another “Mark of the Beast” case has been in the news recently as the US Supreme Court declined to review a case in which plaintiff is “a Fundamentalist Christian who disavowed his social security number when he turned 18 years old. … believ[ing] that his identification by any number — including a social security account number — causes him to have the ‘Mark of the Beast,’ which his religion prohibits.”
In this case plaintiff was either denied hiring or fired (it is not clear) and his case was dismissed because, as the court of appeals noted, an employer does not violate Title VII by failing to accommodate an employee’s religious belief which would require the employer to violate a federal statute – in this the Internal Revenue Code, which requires a social security number. “This conclusion is consistent with Title VII’s text, which says nothing that might license an employer to disregard other federal statutes in the name of reasonably accommodating an employee’s religious practices.”
Takeaway: Employers should be aware that in the US employers are required to accommodate the right of employees with sincerely held religious beliefs to wear religion-required clothes, tattoos or symbols, express religious beliefs, and be free from discrimination in the workplace as long as these beliefs or acts do not cause undue hardship to the employer.
The two cases noted above present two distinct issues even though the “Mark of The Beast” appears in both. In the social security number case, an employer was upheld in its right to refuse to hire someone in violation of a federal statute, while in the hand biometric scanning case no such federal statute is implicated — it was simply an employer’s desire to use new technology to track time. Does permitting some alternative way of doing this create an undue hardship on the employer? The outcome in the second case will likely be different if it is found that the employer was able to accommodate the employee without undue hardship.