Obama administration backs Christian in religious liberty case
by Rachel Lynn Aldrich
Posted 10/08/13, 10:33 am
In an unusual move for a government better known for challenging religious liberty than defending it, the Obama administration is siding with an evangelical Christian against a company he claims violated his genuinely held religious belief.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit on Sept. 23 against Consol Energy on behalf of a former employee who is a devout Christian. The company operates Robinson Run Mine in Mannington, W.V., where employees sign in using a biometric hand scanner. Former employee Beverly Butcher says the tracking method resembles the description of the Mark of the Beast in Revelation, according to The West Virginia Record. Butcher resigned in protest before filing the suit with the EEOC.
“By refusing to provide Butcher with a religious accommodation for his genuinely held religious belief, Defendants created working conditions sufficiently intolerable that a reasonable person would feel compelled to end their employment,” the EEOC complaint says.
Butcher met with mine Superintendent Michael Smith and Human Resource Manager Chris Fazio to explain his concerns after the company installed the scanners. In response, Recognition Systems, which sold the scanner, wrote Butcher a letter outlining its interpretation of the passage in Revelation. Recognition said the verse only applied to the right hand and forehead and suggested Butcher use his left hand.
Butcher offered instead to continue to keep a manual record, but Smith and Fazio adopted Recognition’s position and asked him to use his left hand. But according to a press release by the EEOC, the mining company allowed two employees with missing fingers to keep manual records, proving it was willing to make exceptions in some cases.
“In religious accommodation cases, the standard is not whether company officials agree with or share the employee’s religious beliefs,” said Philadelphia regional attorney Debra M. Lawrence. “Instead, the focus is on whether the employer can provide an accommodation without incurring an undue hardship.”
EEOC filed suit against Consol under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, claiming religious discrimination.
“In this case, the mining companies not only lost the services of a long-tenured employee, they also violated federal law when they obstinately refused to consider easy alternatives to their new hand-scanning time and attendance system to accommodate Mr. Butcher’s religious beliefs,” said EEOC District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr.