Sincerely believing that fingerprinting is “the mark of the devil” may be enough to sue your employer for religious discrimination and retaliation in federal district court.
On Monday, October 30th, Western District of Pennsylvania Judge Kim R. Gibson issued an Order declining to dismiss such a lawsuit at the initial, pleadings stage of litigation. The Plaintiff, Altoona school bus driver and devout Christian Bonnie F. Kaite, contends that she was unlawfully discharged for refusing to be fingerprinted in connection with a state-mandated background check, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”).
Ms. Kaite claimed she was fired after explaining her belief that per the biblical Book of Revelation, providing her fingerprints would create “the mark of the devil” and prevent her from entering heaven. Ms. Kaite also claimed that her employer rejected her request to undergo a fingerprint-free background check as a religious accommodation, despite allowing a coworker with “unreadable” fingerprints to do the same.
In the memorandum opinion accompanying his Order, Judge Gibson emphasized that at this early stage of litigation, the Court must accept Ms. Kaite’s factual allegations at face value and determine whether her version of the events could plausibly support a religious discrimination claim if later proven true.
Later on, after Ms. Kaite and her former employer have had a full opportunity to request and exchange information and evidence from one another in discovery, the Court may consider both sides of the story and decide whether Ms. Kaite’s lawsuit can proceed to trial.
The employer will have an opportunity to develop facts showing that it made a good faith effort to accommodate Ms. Kaite but ultimately could not do so without suffering an undue hardship, or excessive burden or expense.
Stay tuned for additional updates as Ms. Kaite’s case continues to progress. In the meantime (and as always), HR Legalist urges employers to reach out to preferred legal counsel and find out how this decision may affect their business practices.
A copy of Judge Gibson’s opinion can be viewed here.
Alexander V. Batoff focuses his practice on counseling clients on federal and state employment laws and regulations and defending them in litigation. He may be reached at 215-665-3048 or email@example.com.