Oh, hell no! Did an employer discriminate by not excusing a Christian employee from fingerprinting?


Image by Hebi B. from Pixabay

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission seems to think so.

Here’s more from a recent press release announcing a Title VII lawsuit against a Midwest employer for refusing to accommodate a Christian employee who refused to have his fingerprints taken:

The EEOC’s pre-suit investigation revealed that [the employer-defendant] had requested that its employees be finger-printed as a result of a background check requirement of one of its clients. Shortly after the Christian employee informed [the defendant] that having his fingerprints captured was contrary to his religious practices, [the defendant] fired him…without asking the client whether an exemption was available as a religious accommodation, and despite the fact that alternatives to fingerprinting are available.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on religion and requires employers to reasonably accommodate an applicant’s or employee’s religious practice unless it would pose an undue hardship.

If this sounds vaguely familiar to some of my long-time readers, it should.

A few years ago, I blogged here about a bus driver who refused to fingerprint because she is a devout Christian and, according to her sincerely held religious beliefs, “the Book of Revelation prohibits the ‘mark of the devil,’ which she believes includes fingerprinting, and that she will not get into Heaven if she submits to fingerprinting.” Allegedly, her employer refused to accommodate her with a different type of background check that did not require her fingerprints. That case eventually settled.

Earlier that same year, another plaintiff alleging failure to accommodate religious beliefs relating to the mark of the beast not only got past an employer’s attempts to dismiss the case, he ultimately prevailed, scoring a jury award of $586,860.74.

Getting back to the new EEOC lawsuit, we’re only getting one side of the story — mere allegations at that. But, the lesson here is that certain accommodations, whether religious or medical or pregnancy-related, are easy enough to provide that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze denying them. Literally, all the defendant had to do was pick up the phone and ask the client whether an exemption to fingerprinting was available as a religious accommodation.

And while I understand that a phone call may daunt some of you millennial and Gen-Z types, legally, it’s part of the good-faith interactive process in which employers should engage when an employee seeks a workplace accommodation.

The EEOC agrees:

Title VII requires that an employer attempt to find a workable solution when an employee’s sincerely held religious observance or practice conflicts with a work requirement….Employers cannot refuse to provide a religious accommodation unless it presents an undue hardship. Despite this obligation, [the employer allegedly] fired this employee the same day of his accommodation request — failing to even explore readily available solutions. When a company violates federal anti-discrimination laws this way, the EEOC will step in.

And, yes, you can text instead of calling.

Sorry for the heart palpitations. Now, go drink your matcha mushroom latte.


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