CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - This year, a West Virginia coal mining company must pay more than $500,000 to one of its employees who took exception to its use of a hand scanner.
"If the employer allowed the employee to use the already-established alternative to the hand scanner system, providing this accommodation likely would not have cost anywhere near the amount of the verdict," Alex Karasik, an associate attorney for the firm Seyfarth Shaw, told Legal Newsline.
"Regardless of whether the amount was 'right,' the fact remains that the employer will be paying a substantial amount of money."
The case involves a 35-year-old tenured employee of Consolidated Coal, a subsidiary of Consol Energy, who was working at the Robinson Run Mine. The mine installed a new biometric hand scanner for employees to clock in and out.
The employee, an Evangelical Christian, felt the scanner could be associated with the "Mark of the Beast" Christian end-time prophecy and refused to use it. Despite the company having an alternative system for employees unable to have their hands scanned, this accommodation was not made available for him, and he was told he'd be disciplined for not using the hand scanner.
He instead chose to retire.
"Given that the employer here easily could have allowed the employee to use the already-established alternative to the hand scanner system, granting this accommodation would have saved the employer a significant amount of time and money related to the subsequent litigation," Karasik said.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit on the employee's behalf with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia and won a judgment of $150,000 in compensatory damages and $436,000 in back and front pay.
Following the ruling, Consol Energy filed a three-pronged renewed motion for judgment. The first motion stated that the EEOC hadn't done enough to prove the case and said there was not sufficient evidence that Consol Energy could be held as his employer.
The second moved for a new trial, saying there were errors in the case and the award was excessive. The third sought to decrease the award by saying the employee didn't do enough to try and mitigate the damages. The judge in the case rejected all three motions.
While it's somewhat rare to hear a religious discrimination case against a Christian worker, Karasik says it fit neatly into the EEOC's recent campaign.
"Recently, the EEOC has aggressively pursued religious discrimination claims," Karasik said. "While the factual circumstances of this case are certainly unique, this verdict illustrates that religious discrimination is an important issue for both the government and potential jurors.
"Accordingly, employers should seriously consider all religious accommodation requests."
Karasik added that employers should take this ruling very seriously and consider it whenever any sort of issue with religious accommodation comes up.
"This ruling illustrates that employers must seriously consider any and all religious accommodation requests," he said. "Employers need to keep an open mind when considering requests for religious accommodations."