Coal Company to Pay $586,860 in Compensatory Damages, Back Pay and Front Pay in Religious Discrimination Case

Monday, August 31, 2015

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has won a victory in federal court in Clarksburg, W.V., in its employment discrimination lawsuit against Consolidation Coal Company and its parent company CONSOL Energy, Inc.. On Jan. 15, 2015, a unanimous jury of seven decided that CONSOL Energy, Inc. and Consolidation Coal Company violated federal law when they forced a long-time employee to retire because they refused to accommodate his religious beliefs and awarded $150,000 in compensatory damages.

In June, the federal court conducted a two-day, non-jury evidentiary hearing to determine lost wages and benefits and injunctive relief, and on Aug. 21, 2015, the federal court issued an order awarding a total of $586,860 in lost wages and benefits and compensatory damages, and permanently enjoining the companies from committing similar acts in the future in violation of Title VII.

Last June, in EEOC v. Abercrombie and Fitch, the Supreme Court handed down an important ruling regarding an employer's obligation to accommodate the religious practices of applicants.

According to EEOC's lawsuit, Beverly R. Butcher, Jr. had worked as a general inside laborer at the companies' mine in Mannington, W.V., for over 35 years when the mining companies required employees to use a newly installed biometric hand scanner to track employee time and attendance. Butcher repeatedly informed company officials that submitting to biometric hand scanning violated his sincerely held religious beliefs as an Evangelical Christian. He also wrote a letter to company officials explaining his beliefs about the relationship between hand-scanning technology and the "Mark of the Beast" and the Antichrist discussed in the New Testament's Book of Revelation, and requesting an exemption from the hand scanning based on his religious beliefs.

In response, the mining companies refused to consider alternate means of tracking Butcher's time and attendance and informed him he would be disciplined up to and including discharge if he refused to scan his hand, according to the lawsuit. EEOC charged that Butcher was forced to retire because the companies refused to provide a reasonable accommodation for his religious beliefs.

Refusing to grant reasonable accommodation for employee religious beliefs that conflict with work requirements violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, unless accommodation would result in undue hardship on the employer's business. EEOC filed suit (U.S. EEOC v. CONSOL Energy, Inc. and Consolidation Coal Company, Civil Action No. 1:13-cv-00215) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

At trial, the federal jury in Clarksburg, W.V., returned a verdict in favor of EEOC, finding that the defendants violated Butcher's rights under Title VII, and awarded Butcher $150,000 in compensatory damages. Senior U.S. District Judge Frederick P. Stamp, Jr. subsequently determined that the companies must also pay Butcher an additional $436,860.74 in back pay and front pay for the Title VII violations found by the jury. The Court also ordered a permanent injunction for a three-year period barring the defendants from denying reasonable accommodations for religion in connection with their use of biometric hand screening and required them to be trained on religious accommodations under Title VII to prevent further violations of federal law.

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