A coal mine employee, with the help of the EEOC, won a lawsuit argued before a West Virginia court over his company’s attempt to force him into implanting a microchip in his hand. Beverly Butcher, Jr. is an evangelical who was working for an energy company that decided it would be best for them to move to a microchip reader system for clocking in and out each work day. When Mr. Butcher was informed of the company’s mandate, he approached his employer and told them he objected to such a system because, as a devout evangelical, he believed hand scanner systems requiring him to get implanted were tied to the Mark of the Beast mentioned in the book of Revelation.
His employers countered that he would still have to get the chip because, according to their interpretation of the Bible, the microchip did not have to go in his right hand, but his left. They concluded that since this was their understanding and that they made sufficient accomodations for him, he would still have to be implanted. Butcher still insisted he be allowed to punch in under a different method. His employers refused, so he sued. In his arguments, Butcher’s counsel pointed out that other employees who had hand injuries were not required to use hand scanners for punching in, so Butcher should be given the same treatment for his religious beliefs.
The EEOC told energy company Consol concerning their employee Butcher, “The relevant issue is whether Butcher had a religious objection to hand scanning, not why he objects.” Furthermore, an attorney involved in the case explained that “In religious accommodation cases, the standard is not whether company officials agree with or share the employee’s religious beliefs. Instead, the focus is on whether the employer can provide an accommodation without incurring an undue hardship.” On these points, the West Virginia court agreed. So the court ruled Consol would have to pay Butcher $150,000 for violating his religious rights.
In the midst of the refusal of Consol to accomodate him, Butcher felt he had no alternative but to retire, which he did five years before his planned retirement date. However, both the EEOC and court decision reveal two things: (1) for now, employers cannot force employees to make intrusive body modifications they choose not to make, (2) employers cannot force employees to comply with company decisions that violate their religious beliefs when alternatives are easily available to the employer.
Source: Zach Warren, Court awards $150,000 after company refuses to accommodate employee’s fear of the ‘Mark of the Beast’, InsideCounsel.com, January 23, 2015.
(Note: In August 2015, a U.S. District judge added almost $440,000 more dollars to Mr. Butcher’s award for his wage losses for a total of nearly $587,000. Murray Energy, who owns the coal company, at that time said they would appeal.)