W.V.: EEOC Sues Mine Owner for Failure to Provide Religious Accommodation

By By SHRM Online staff Feb 17, 2015

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued for religious discrimination on behalf of a mine employee who retired because, for religious reasons, he did not want to use his employer’s time and attendance system.

The EEOC sued Console Energy Inc. and Consolidated Coal Co. for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to provide an employee, Beverly R. Butcher, Jr., with a religious accommodation. Console Energy and Consolidated Coal operated a mine that began using a biometric hand scanner for tracking employee time and attendance in 2012. The EEOC alleged that Butcher, who had “genuinely held religious belief” that he was not permitted to submit either of his hands for scanning because it would make him take on the “mark of the beast,” asked to continue to manually submit his time and attendance or use a time clock instead of using the hand scanner. The EEOC also contended that the mine declined to accommodate the employee’s religious exemption request even though the mine allowed exemptions for two other employees who had missing fingers. The EEOC, which asserted that Butcher involuntarily retired because the mine would not allow his religious exemption, filed suit, seeking injunctive relief and monetary damages. The EEOC filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the question of liability, and Console Energy also sought summary judgment.

To establish a religious accommodation claim, an employee must show that he has a bona fide religious belief that conflicts with an employment requirement; he informed the employer of this belief and requested an accommodation; and he was disciplined for failure to comply with the conflicting employment requirement. The trial court found that there were material issues of fact that surround the third requirement–whether or not Butcher was disciplined for failure to comply with the mine’s hand scanning policy. The court, therefore, denied the EEOC’s motion for summary judgment.

Console Energy argued it was not Butcher’s employer because his personnel files show he received his paycheck and all daily directives and assignments from Consolidation Coal. However, the court found factual inconsistencies as to which of the mine employees involved in addressing Butcher’s concerns were employed by Console Energy or Consolidation Coal. Because it was unable to determine whether or not both Consolidation Coal and Console Energy should be considered Butchers employers for the purposes of this litigation, it denied Console Energy’s motion for summary judgment.

EEOC v. Console Energy, Inc., N.D. W. Va., No. 1:13CV215 (Jan. 7, 2015).

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