Published on:

Religious Accommodations: The Accommodation Needs To Be Reasonable, Not The Belief

There are many religions and religious beliefs. There’s Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Bahá’í Faith, Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Slavic neopaganism, Celtic polytheism, Heathenism (German paganism), Semitic neopaganism, Wicca, Kemetism (Egyptian paganism), Hellenism, Italo-Roman neopaganism to name a few. Whatever your sincerely held religious belief is, if any, federal and state law protects your right to observe those beliefs. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et al 2012 (“Title VII”); N.J.S.A. 10:5-1, et. seq., the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”). In fact, an employer may be required to reasonably accommodate your religious belief so long as to do so does not cause the employer or co-workers an undue hardship.

Protected religious beliefs are based on an employee’s sincerely held belief. It does not matter whether the employee has a relatable or probable belief. Rather, if the employee indisputably has a sincere religious belief, the employee is entitled to receive a reasonable accommodation from their employer regardless of whether the employer likes or agrees with that belief.  The case of United States EEOC v. Consol Energy Inc., Nos. 16-1230, 16-1406, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 10385, at*1 (4th Cir. June 12, 2017), while somewhat factually unusual, underscores how important it is for an employer to focus on whether a requested accommodation is reasonable, and not whether the employee’s religious belief is reasonable. There, the Fourth Circuit held that so long as the employee has a legitimate religious belief, regardless how farfetched, they are entitled to be reasonably accommodated.

In United States EEOC v. Consol Energy Inc., the Fourth Circuit affirmed a $586,000 award to Beverly R. Butcher (“Butcher”) because his employer violated his religious rights under Title VII. Id. Butcher, a lifelong Evangelical Christian, worked for Robinson Rue Mines (owned by Consol Energy Inc. “Consol”) for 37 years without incident. Id. When Consol decided to use biometric scanners as a method of tracking timesheets Butcher protested. Butcher explained that as a devout Christian he believed using a biometric scanner to clock in and out of his job would mark him as a follower of the Antichrist, subjecting him to an eternity of fire and brimstone. Id. at *6. Consol chose to debate the legitimacy of these beliefs with Butcher and even presented him a letter explaining how the scanner leaves no physical marks and that Butcher’s understanding of the scriptures was incorrect.  Butcher persisted and a lawsuit was filed.

At trial, it soon became evident that Consol only had an issue with Butcher’s religious beliefs, and not with accommodating people who could not use a biometric scanner. In fact, in an email issued by Consol management, the company permitted workers who had physical disabilities making it difficult for them to use the scanner to instead punch in a code on an adjacent keypad.  In that same email, Consul denied Butcher the option to use the adjacent keypad to accommodate his religious beliefs. Id. at *7-8. Accordingly, a jury concluded Consol had specifically targeted Butcher’s religious beliefs when the company refused to accommodate his religious beliefs. The Fourth Circuit ultimately affirmed this verdict.

While employers need to accommodate their employee’s religious beliefs under Title VII and the NJLAD, such accommodations need only be reasonable. However, what is considered reasonable can be a difficult question to answer. While an accommodation resulting in an “undue hardship” to an employer is considered unreasonable, what defines an undue hardship requires a fact sensitive inquiry. Therefore, an employer generally should engage in an interactive process with an employee regarding the nature, extent, and implementation of a requested accommodation, before determining what would suffice as a reasonable accommodation.

If you have been victimized at work by the discriminatory acts and/or omissions of supervisors and/or co-workers alike, you may have a viable legal claim so  call the attorneys at Mashel Law (732) 536-6161 or fill out the contact form on this page for immediate help. At Mashel Law, we are well experienced in handling discrimination cases and will aggressively seek to discover the evidence required to get your claim to a jury. Mashel Law, located in Morganville, New Jersey, is dedicated to protecting the rights of employees.