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Employer’s Perception of Employee’s Religious Beliefs Irrelevant to Accommodation Duty

Beverly Butcher was a coal miner at a mine run by Consol Energy, Inc. for 37 years. When Consol wanted to begin using a biometric hand scanner to track its employees in 2012, it was a problem for Mr. Butcher. He was a devout evangelical Christian who believed in the Antichrist that “stands for evil” and that his followers are subject to endless punishment. His understanding of the Antichrist included Mark of the Beast brands that mark followers of the Antichrist. He believed that Consol’s hand scanner would result in him being “marked.” In response to Consol’s request, he provided proof of his beliefs via a statement from his Pastor. Consol would not let Mr. Butcher skip the scanner and as Mr. Butcher refused to scan his hand, he felt forced to retire. Not long after his retirement, Mr. Butcher learned that some employees with physical injuries were allowed to use a keypad instead of the scanners.

The matter came before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Title VII has been held to require reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs, provided the accommodation was not an undue burden on the employer. The court found that Mr. Butcher had provided sufficient evidence of his religious objection and it was not the employer’s place to question the plausibility of his beliefs. It did not matter whether Mr. Butcher was mistaken in his beliefs; the only question was the sincerity of those beliefs. Moreover, Consol had no argument to support an undue burden defense because it was already providing an appropriate accommodation to disabled workers, an accommodation that admittedly imposed no additional burdens or costs. These facts were sufficient to support the jury’s verdict against Consol for failure to accommodate Mr. Butcher’s religious beliefs.