United States: Biometrics And "The Mark Of The Beast": Dealing With Employee Accommodation Requests

Employers are increasingly using biometric data such as facial characteristics, hand geometry, retina/iris scans, fingerprints and voiceprints in the workplace.  Biometric data can be used to establish records of employee hours, to restrict access to specific areas, computer systems, data or devices, to provide security and to promote employee health, including through wellness programs.

Employers who use biometrics are rightfully worried about breaches of biometric data and complying with growing regulations that restrict their ability to collect, retain and use such data. The Fourth Circuit, however, has recently reminded employers that they must not lose sight of their obligations under Title VII and similar anti-discrimination statutes when implementing such technologies.  

In U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Consol Energy Inc., an evangelical Christian claimed he could not use an employer's newly implemented biometric hand scanner because it violated his sincerely held religious beliefs.  A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit unanimously held the evidence at trial supported the jury verdict in the employee's favor on his Title VII religious accommodation claim.

Consol owned and operated a West Virginia coal mine, where it implemented a biometric hand-scanner system to better monitor the attendance and work hours of its employees. The scanner system required each employee checking in or out of a shift to scan his or her right hand; the shape of the right hand was then linked to the worker's unique personnel number. As compared to the previous system, in which the shift foreman manually tracked the time worked by employees, the scanner was thought to allow for more accurate and efficient reporting.

Beverly Butcher was a coal miner who worked at the mine for 37 years without incident.  Butcher was also a devout evangelical Christian and ordained minister, and he informed management that his religious beliefs prevented him from using the biometric scanner.  Specifically, Butcher thought that technology requiring workers to scan their hand to clock in and out signified the "Mark of the Beast" that appears on followers of the Antichrist in the Bible's book of Revelation and condemns them to eternal punishment.  He held this belief even though the scanner did not leave any physical or visible mark.

At the Company's request, Butcher provided a letter from his church pastor explaining his religious conviction against the scanner and why he needed a religious accommodation.  Butcher also offered to check in with his shift supervisor or to punch in on a time clock, as he had in the past while working at the mine.  The Company believed Butcher's interpretation of the Bible was erroneous and refused his religious accommodation request despite allowing two employees with hand injuries to enter their personnel numbers on a keypad attached to the system instead of scanning their hands.  Butcher retired under protest because the Company would not exempt him from the hand scanner policy.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought a lawsuit on behalf of Butcher, alleging Consol violated Title VII by constructively discharging Butcher instead of accommodating his religious beliefs, and a West Virginia federal jury agreed in January 2015.  The jury awarded Butcher almost $600,000 in damages. Consol filed three post-verdict motions, which the district court denied.  Consol appealed those decisions.

The Fourth Circuit panel upheld the lower court's decisions, stating there was enough evidence for the jurors to conclude that Consol didn't make an accommodation available to Butcher that it did make available to other employees who couldn't use the hand scanners for nonreligious reasons (i.e., hand injuries). The Court noted that this was not a case where the employer could show that an accommodation was not feasible or would impose undue hardship. The panel also agreed with the jury that the EEOC had shown that Butcher possessed sincere religious beliefs in conflict with Consol's scanner policy, that he had informed Consol of the conflict and that Consol forced Butcher to quit for his refusal to comply.

The Fourth Circuit panel said Consol failed to recognize the conflict between Butcher's beliefs and its hand scanner policy seemingly because it felt his beliefs were mistaken, saying that it is neither the employer's nor the court's place "to question the correctness or even the plausibility of Butcher's religious understandings."  The panel further noted "there exists substantial evidence that Butcher was put in an intolerable position when Consol refused to accommodate his religious objection, requiring him to use a scanner system that Butcher sincerely believed would render him a follower of the Antichrist, "'tormented with fire and brimstone.'" "So long as there is sufficient evidence that Butcher's beliefs are sincerely held — which the jury specifically found, and Consol does not dispute — and conflict with Consol's employment requirement, that is the end of the matter," the panel said. 

The Fourth Circuit's decision is a reminder to employers that as they implement biometric systems and other technologies that gather employees' personal, private information, being compliant with the latest data privacy laws and regulations is not the only requirement to consider.  Employees may ask for exemptions from or modifications to employer technologies and policies to accommodate their religious beliefs (or disabilities).  Such requests are protected by federal and state anti-discrimination laws and must be taken seriously.  Employers who face religious accommodation requests should engage in discussions with the employee to consider whether any accommodation (even if it is not the one requested) can be offered.  Remember that as long as the employee's religious belief is sincere, it does not matter that the employer or any other individual may disagree with it.  Employers may be able to show that certain requests pose an undue hardship, but must consider whether a reasonable and mutually agreeable accommodation can be found. 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions