While we would never disparage anyone’s sincerely held religious beliefs, we did not see this one coming.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently filed suit in federal court in West Virginia claiming that the use of a hand scanning time clock violated an employee’s rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).

The defendants in the case operate a mine in West Virginia and required employees to electronically sign into work using a biometric hand scanner used to track time and attendance.  An employee, Beverly Butcher, objected to the new hand scanning device on the grounds that it violated the requirements of his religion.  Butcher, an Evangelical Christian, believed that the hand scanning technology was related to the Mark of the Beast and antichrist.  He raised his concerns with the defendants on multiple occasions and asked for an accommodation – to submit his time manually as he had done before or to check in and out with his supervisor.  The defendants told Butcher that he could use his left hand turned palm up rather than his right hand because the Bible’s Mark of the Beast dealt with the right hand and forehead.  Because the defendants would not accommodate his request, Butcher involuntarily retired after thirty five years of
service.  According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the defendants allowed two other employees to continue to submit manual time cards because they had missing fingers.

It is difficult to say how the case will turn out.  Title VII requires employers to accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs of employees, unless doing so creates an undue hardship.  The undue hardship requirement is set low; employers must show that the accommodation will cause more than a minimal cost.  The defendants may be stuck between a rock and a hard place on the undue hardship issue. The EEOC will likely argue that allowing Butcher to use a manual time clock did not create an undue hardship, especially because the defendants allowed the employees with the missing fingers to continue to clock in and out.  However, the defendants may have been legally required to accommodate the other employees under the American with Disabilities Act, which has a much tougher undue burden requirement for employers than the minimal undue hardship defense in Title VII.