Jury awards $150K to employee who feared scanner as “Mark of the Beast”

“An employee who refused to submit to biometric hand scanning because he feared the scanner would imprint him with the “Mark of the Beast,” was awarded $150,000 in damages by a federal jury …. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Consol Energy on behalf of Butcher for allegedly forcing the long-time mine worker to retire because the companies’ newly installed technology violated his religious beliefs.” [Michael Stone, Patheos; Biometric Update, opinion and EEOC press release via Eugene Volokh, Jon Hyman and more (Sixth Circuit rules for employer in case where employee interprets Social Security number as mark of the Beast, because use of those numbers in hiring is mandatory under federal law)]


  • Stuff like this makes me wish we could limit religious claims to those based on a logical application of religious belief to the situation. But, at its core, any religious belief would seem illogical to someone who doesn’t believe it. If we’re going to allow for idiosyncratic beliefs, how can we limit crack pots like this?

  • James,

    It seems to me that this logically flows from Hobby Lobby. Moreover, it is no more idiosyncratic than not providing services, i.e., baking a wedding cake, to homosexuals.

  • “If we’re going to allow for idiosyncratic beliefs, how can we limit crack pots like this?”

    We could start by not having the government take up the cause of the crackpot. Here, however, the EEOC used its “limited resources” to obtain a jury verdict on his behalf. Had this plaintiff been required to find a private lawyer, he may have failed to do so, given the facially bizarre nature of his claim and his somewhat limited damages. But the EEOC was, apparently, only too happy to pursue the sort of bizarre result the drafters of these laws probably never intended.

  • I’m all in favor of people being able to hire and fire whom they please, but is this any more idiosyncratic than Hobby Law? In what way does the number of people or the existence of priests, rabbis, ministers or what-have-yous validate, invalidate or make more reasonable a sincerely held belief?


  • Disagree with calling the former emloyee a ‘crackpot.’ Sincerely held religious beliefs are just that, and as such, protected by law. Those who don’t share his faith, don’t & won’t ever, understand.

    • But in this case there are two components to the problem: (a) the employee’s religious belief that there is a “Mark of the Beast” and that this is something to be avoided; (b) the employee’s belief that a SCANNER would imprint him with the Mark of the Beast. The former may be something that we have to stipulate as a matter of faith, but the latter is an irrational belief that is not in and of itself religious. There is nothing in Revelation, is there, that suggests that a scanner can imprint anything. In contrast, if we stipulate (a), it is rational for an employee to object to being stamped with an ID number or to have an RFID tag implanted.

      In other words, why should we have to accept a religious person’s crazy ideas as to the application of his or her religious principles? I grant that we don’t want the courts to engage in analysis of what exactly a religion’s principles are, but there has to be some rational connection between those principles and the situation to which the employee objects. If not, what would prvent an employee from saying, for example, that his religion forbids him to sell pork and therefore he will not sell beef? Isn’t his belief that beef falls into the “pork” category an idiosyncratic bizarre belief that is not religious in character?

  • Yeah Pat, but there never is a true inquiry about the sincerity of the belief or it’s reasonableness. The focus is always on the employer. By all means, let’s burden employers more – if you have such a belief and the employer requires the use of the device, you can leave the job to ensure your beliefs aren’t infringed upon.

  • bob,

    That doesn’t seem to be the case here. The company and the manufacturer of the scanning device both acknowledge the sincerity of his beliefs. They tried to dissuade him from holding those beliefs, but as Pat says, as they do not share his beliefs, they won’t understand.

    This is a strange case to me because is seems that employee offered very reasonable alternatives. He offered to report in to his supervisor as he had been doing during his entire employment time. He offered to use the old system, He offered to use a keypad which was an installed part of the biometric system itself to sign in and out. The company and the biometric system maker took a hard line and simply said “no.”

    What I suspect is stunning and bothersome to most is the amount of the verdict. Perhaps it is too high. (IMO it is.) Yet the company choose this hill to die on and die they did.

    There are a lot of cases where strange accommodations are demanded by an employee. We see lots of demands for accommodations that result in the employee no longer being able to do the job for which they were hired. (recently: http://overlawyered.com/2015/03/grocery-clerk-wouldnt-handle-pork-products-sues/)

    This just doesn’t seem to be one of those cases. This seems to be a case where a company for whatever reason decided to draw a line in the sand. That line was way past the line where the law was and they got badly burned for it.

    (For the record, I share the same basic religious beliefs of Butcher, but don’t agree with him on the “mark of the beast” belief so this is not a case of me backing him because I agree with him, but rather I think there was a much better path of least resistance than the company chose.)

  • gitarcarver: Thank you, that was a very illuminative post.

  • […] Headline of the week: Jury awards $150K to employee who feared scanner as “Mark of the Beast.” The long-time employee was forced to retire after he refused to submit to biometric hand scanning […]