Judgment Day Dooms Employer: No New Trial In EEOC Case After Finding Of Failure To Accommodate Anti-Christ Fears

by Seyfarth Shaw LLP

In EEOC v. Consol Energy, Inc., Case No. 13-CV-215 (N. D. W.Va. Feb. 9, 2015), the EEOC brought a religious discrimination suit on behalf of an employee against his coal mining employer defendants, parent company Consol Energy, Inc. and subsidiary Consolidation Coal Company.  The Commission alleged that defendants refused to provide the employee a religious accommodation by subjecting him to a biometric hand scanner for purposes of clocking in and out of work.  Specifically, the employee believed the hand scanner was used to identify and collect personal information that would be used by the Christian Anti-Christ, as described in the New Testament Book of Revelation, to identify followers with the “mark of the beast.”  Id. at 2. After the jury returned a verdict in favor of the EEOC, and awarded the $150,000 in compensatory damages and over $436,000 in front pay and back pay damages, defendants filed a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(b), a motion for a new trial under Rule 59, and a motion to amend the Court’s findings and conclusions under Rule 59.  On February 9, 2016, Judge Frederick P. Stamp, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia denied all three of defendants’ motions.

Employers and corporate counsel should have this case on their radar when confronted with an employee who seeks a religious accommodation.

Case Background

In 2012, after defendants decided to implement a new biometric hand scanner technology to assist employees with clocking in and out, a 35-year tenured employee requested a religious exemption from the hand scanner policy, stating that he feared damnation from its use.  Id. at 2.  Despite developing a method of bypassing the hand scanner for miners who were physically incapable of scanning their hands, defendants refused to grant an exception to the employee.  After being told he would be disciplined for refusing to scan his hand, the employee subsequently retired.

The EEOC brought a civil action on the employee’s behalf, alleging that defendants’ failure to provide an accommodation to the employee amounted to religious discrimination under Title VII.  Id. at 3.  Following trial, the jury found: (1) that parent company Consol was the employee’s employer; (2) that the employee had a “sincere religious belief that conflicted with an employment requirement”; (3) that the employee “informed his employer of this belief”; (4) that the employee “was subjected to an adverse employment action . . . by being . . . constructively discharged by his employer for his refusal to comply with the conflicting employment requirement”; (5) that defendants did not provide the employee a reasonable accommodation; and (6) that the accommodations proposed by the EEOC at trial would not have “resulted in more than a de minimis cost” to the defendants.  Id.  The jury awarded $150,000 in compensatory damages and over $436,000 in front pay and back pay damages.  Defendants thereafter filed a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(b), a motion for a new trial under Rule 59, and a motion to amend the Court’s findings and conclusions under Rule 59.

The Ruling

Judge Stamp denied all three motions brought by defendants.  In their renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(b), defendants argued (1) that the EEOC failed to present sufficient evidence to state a prima facie case of religious discrimination; and (2) that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that the parent company Consol was the employee’s employer.  The Court rejected these arguments, finding that the EEOC presented sufficient evidence that the employee repeatedly requested a religious accommodation, which was denied despite defendants’ awareness of a reasonable accommodation, and that parent company Consol exercised excessive control and made employment decisions regarding the employees of the subsidiary defendant Consolidation such that it was his employer.  Id. at 8-9.

Defendants also moved for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59, arguing that the Court made various legal errors and that the jury’s damage award was excessive so as to make the judgment a miscarriage of justice.  Id. at 10.  The Court had earlier granted the EEOC’s motion in limine to exclude all evidence regarding the grievance process contained in the United Mine Workers of America’s (“UMWA”) collective bargaining agreement with Consol, which allowed the employee to file a grievance with the union and seek arbitration before he could be discharged.  Defendants argued that the evidence was relevant for several reasons, asserting that its exclusion was prejudicial because the jury was misled into believing that the employee had no option but to retire.  Id. at 11.  The Court rejected this argument, noting that whether defendants’ enforcement of their progressive discipline policy would have resulted in the employee’s eventual discharge, even after arbitration through the grievance process, had no bearing on whether they deliberately denied the employee a religious accommodation.  Id. at 12.  Additionally, the Court rejected defendants’ arguments that the jury instructions and jury’s award were improper, holding that the jury award was supported by the employee’s testimony and his wife’s testimony about the adverse effect of his retirement.  Id. at 29.

Finally, in their motion to amend the findings regarding back pay and front pay damages, defendants argued that the Court’s findings regarding the employee’s efforts to mitigate damages were not supported by the evidence.  The Court rejected this argument, referencing how the employee reasonably mitigated his damages by eventually accepting another job, even though it was lower-paying and in a different industry.  Id. at 32.  Further, defendants argued that the Court’s inclusion of lost pension benefits in front pay damages was erroneous because the Court erred in finding that the pension benefits that the employee had already received since his retirement were from a collateral source and should not offset damages; and that the Court should reconsider its calculation of front pay damages since it resulted in a windfall for the employee.  Id. at 34.  The Court rejected these contentions too. It reasoned that not off-setting the employee’s damages with the pension benefits he had already received would not result in a windfall.  Id. at *-40.  Accordingly, the Court denied defendants’ renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, motion for a new trial, and motion to amend the Court’s findings and conclusions.

Implications For Employers

The unique factual circumstances of this case, and the jury’s subsequent findings, should alert employers that they must seriously consider any and all religious accommodation requests.  Given that defendants here easily could have allowed the employee to use their already-established alternative to the hand scanner system, granting this accommodation would have saved the employer a significant amount of time and money related to the subsequent litigation.  In sum, employers should take an open-minded and thorough approach when assessing any and all religious accommodation requests in order to avoid potentially costly EEOC litigation.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Seyfarth Shaw LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Seyfarth Shaw LLP

Seyfarth Shaw LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.