Employment Law Case: EEOC v. Consol Energy, Inc., No. 16-1230, (4th Cir. June 12, 2017)
Employment Law Issues: Title VII Religious Discrimination, Constructive Discharge
Court Holding: The Circuit Court affirmed the District Court’s ruling that the plaintiff-employee had suffered constructive discharge and Title VII religious discrimination due to his employer’s failure to accommodate his religious beliefs.
Employment Counsel: Even if an employer does not intend for an employee to leave as a result of its policies, an employer who fails to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs can make the work environment intolerable to that employee. In such a situation, a court might find that an employee was constructively discharged as a result of his employer’s failure to accommodate his religious convictions.
Employment Law Case Summary:
Beverly Butcher worked for 37 years in a coal mine operated by Consol Energy. When Consol implemented a biometric hand-scanner system to track employees’ hours in the mine, Butcher objected to using the system. He believed that his Evangelical Christian faith warned against receiving the “Mark of the Beast” and that such a system placed a mark on employees that doomed them to serve the Antichrist. Since Consol did not accommodate Butcher’s objection, he retired. On behalf of Butcher, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought a Title VII action against the company for failing to accommodate Butcher’s religious beliefs and constructively discharging him.
At trial, the jury determined that Butcher had met all three elements of a Title VII reasonable religious accommodation claim:
(1) He had a sincere religious belief that conflicted with Consol’s hand scanner system;
(2) Butcher notified Consol of the conflict; and
(3) Consol’s refusal to accommodate Butcher amounted to a constructive discharge. Moreover, as evidenced by Consol’s accommodation of two other employees with hand injuries, Consol would not have incurred an undue hardship or cost to accommodate Butcher.
Consol appealed the decision arguing that Butcher did not meet the first and third prongs of the religious accommodation claim. As to the first prong, Consol argued that there was no conflict between Butcher’s Evangelical beliefs and the hand scanner. In response, the Circuit Court emphasized that it is not for the employer or for the court to assess the legitimacy of religious convictions.
As to the third prong, Consol argued that it did not constructively discharge Butcher because he voluntarily retired. The Court disagreed. It reasoned that an employee is constructively discharged when an “employer deliberately makes the working conditions of the employee intolerable.” Although Consol argued that there was not enough intention to satisfy a constructive discharge’s “deliberate” element, the Court pointed to the recent Supreme Court case, Green v. Brennan, that rejected an intent requirement and emphasized that an employee should not have to present proof that his employer’s discrimination was really a covert scheme to force him to quit.
For additional information about this case or other employment law matters, please contact Merritt Green at firstname.lastname@example.org or (703) 556-6505. Mr. Green leads General Counsel, P.C.’s Employment Law Practice and has been representing employers (and occasionally employees) for over 18 years.