Monday, July 10, 2017

EEOC v. Consol Energy: Accommodating Religious Beliefs About the Antichrist and the Mark of the Beast

In EEOC v. Consol Energy, No. 16-1230 (4th Cir. June 12, 2017), the court upheld a jury verdict that the defendant violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to accommodate Beverly Butcher's religious belief that using a hand scanner would brand him with the "Mark of the Beast" and allow him to to be manipulated by the Antichrist. As explained by the court, Title VII protects all sincerely held religious beliefs, and 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."

Consol did not dispute that Butcher sincerely held a religious belief that conflicted with his use of the hand scanner. Instead, Consol fruitlessly tried to argue that Butcher's religious beliefs were mistaken. Consol contended that scripture only associates the Mark of the Beast with the right hand, so requiring Butcher to scan his left hand did not result in a religious conflict. Furthermore, the defendant provided a letter from the manufacturer that use of the hand scanner cannot place or detect a mark on a user's body. Finally, Consol noted that Butcher's pastor did not share Butcher's belief that the hand scanner is related to the Mark of the Beast.

These contentions were irrelevant, however, because they did not go to whether Butcher actually had a sincere religious objection to using the hand scanner but instead to whether he was correct in having such an objection. Whether a belief is religious depends strictly on the person holding that belief. As long as Butcher's objection to the use of the hand scanner was religious in his own scheme of things, that is all that mattered. "[T]here was ample evidence from which a jury could conclude that Butcher sincerely believed 'participation in this system' – with or without a tangible mark – 'was a showing of allegiance to the Antichrist,' inconsistent with his deepest religious convictions."

The evidence further showed that Consol could have allowed Butcher to bypass the hand scanner by entering his identification number into a keypad. The defendant was already providing this accommodation to two other employees who needed it for non-religious reasons, and granting Butcher the same accommodation would not have imposed further costs on the company. Based on this evidence, there was enough for a reasonable jury to have ruled in Butcher's favor.

As illustrated in this case, Title VII's coverage of religious beliefs does not play favorites. All beliefs are entitled to the same protections. It's true, of course, that beliefs must actually be religious, but whether a belief is religious is evaluated from the perspective of the individual claiming protection. 

This blog reflects the views solely of its author. It is not intended, and should not be regarded, as legal advice on how to analyze any particular set of facts.