A U.S. coal mining company violated an employee’s religious beliefs by requiring him to clock into and out of work via a biometric hand scanner, a federal appeals court has ruled. The decision could mean more work for human resources departments in crafting other biometric authentication programs but so far appears unlikely to stall the expansion of similar systems.
Pennsylvania-based Consol Energy Inc. should have accommodated the religious beliefs of Beverly Butcher, a 37-year-old evangelical Christian who worked in West Virginia, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Like other workers at the location, Butcher was told to place his right hand on the scanner to verify attendance and work hours, a system that also assigned personal numbers to employees. To Butcher, the biometric authentication represented the “Mark of the Beast” found in the New Testament’s Book of Revelations.
Similar concerns about biometric technology – or other identification technologies – are not uncommon though considered unfounded in mainstream circles.
Butcher contacted the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed suit against the company. Butcher retired in 2012 rather than take part in the company’s biometric authentication, according to court documents. The ruling awards Butcher nearly $440,000 in lost wages and benefits.
Even though the court issued a permanent injunction against Consol to refrain from future violations of employee religious concerns, the ruling likely will have no major impact on other companies’ use of biometric authentication technologies, said Jancie Kephart, founding partner at Identity Strategy Partners, a consultancy based in the Washington, D.C. area. “This case is too far afield from mainstream issues, including those pertaining to privacy, which this case does not even touch,” she said. “It will rather result in some work for corporate human resource teams who will need to write some new policies for current and prospective employees.” (Click to Site)