CLARKSBURG — A federal jury Thursday ruled in favor of a general laborer at the Consol Energy/Consolidation Coal Co.’s Mannington mining operations who said he was forced to retire because of his religious beliefs.
The jury returned $150,000 in compensatory damages for Beverly R. Butcher Jr.
At a later hearing, Senior Judge Frederick P. Stamp Jr. will decide back pay and front pay owed to Butcher.
Consol Energy Inc. will appeal to the Fourth Circuit, according to one of its attorneys, Jeff Grove of Grove & Delk PLLC in Wheeling.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had sued Consol Energy on behalf of Butcher. The federal agency’s filing asserted Butcher, an evangelical Christian, was told he must submit to biometric hand scanning for time and attendance tracking, even though that is against his religious beliefs.
Ron Phillips, supervisory trial attorney for the federal agency, declined comment, as did Butcher. An attempt to contact the EEOC’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., was unsuccessful.
The jury found that Butcher “had a sincere religious belief that conflicted with an employment requirement” and that Butcher informed his employer of that belief.
The jury also found that Consol Energy failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for Butcher’s beliefs and that it wouldn’t have been an “undue hardship” to do so.
Phillips indicated to the court that the EEOC will seek a permanent injunction preventing Consol Energy Inc. from engaging in religious discrimination such as was allegedly involved in this case.
Prior to the filing of the lawsuit, Butcher allegedly wrote his employers. The letter discussed “his genuinely held religious beliefs about the relationship between hand scanning technology and the Mark of the Beast and Antichrist discussed in the Bible,” the lawsuit asserted.
“Butcher’s request was to be exempted from all hand scanning and was not limited to the scanning of his right hand,” the lawsuit contended.
Butcher’s employers handed him a letter written by the scanner’s vendor, Recognition Systems Inc., according to the lawsuit.
Addressed “To Whom it May Concern,” the letter “discussed the vendor’s interpretation of Chapter 13, Verse 16 of the Book of Revelation contained in the Bible; pointed out that the text of that verse references the Mark of the Beast only on the right hand and forehead; and suggests that persons with concerns about taking the Mark of the Beast ‘be enrolled’ (meaning, use the hand scanner) with their left hand and palm facing up,” the lawsuit asserted.
“The letter concludes by assuring the reader that the vendor’s scanner product does not, in fact, assign the Mark of the Beast,” the lawsuit asserted.
Company officials rejected Butcher’s counter offer to either keep a written record of his hours, as he had been doing, or to check in and check out with his supervisor, the lawsuit contended.
This led to the defendant’s retirement before he planned to do so, the lawsuit contended.
When the jury originally returned its verdict Thursday, it awarded $150,000 that it wrote was for salary, pension and court costs. Stamp, noting outside the jury’s presence that items such as salary, pension and court costs were matters in his purview, not the jury’s, visited with jurors before sending them back to deliberate again.
He called their attention to the fact that the court determines matters such as back and forward pay, and then told them to deliberate again to determine compensatory damages, if any.
Grove objected, saying he and co-counsel David L. Delk Jr. believed the jury’s initial finding meant it was awarding zero compensatory damages.
When jurors returned the $150,000 verdict, Stamp then asked them, at Grove’s request, whether their finding including back and front pay, and they said it didn’t.
Consol Energy will appeal on this issue, as well as other rulings by the court that adversely impacted the defense, Grove indicated.
• Richard Dillon Heimbach, 22, of Bridgeport, has been charged in Harrison County with six misdemeanors by State Police Tfc. M.A. Bailey: Receiving/transferring stolen property, improper registration, driving without a license, driving without proof of insurance, possession of marijuana paraphernalia and possession of a deadly weapon.
Law enforcement, using a fixed license plate reader device, learned Tuesday that a Pontiac Grand AM was being operated with a stolen registration.
When Bailey stopped the vehicle on Interstate 79 in northern Harrison County, he found Heimbach was driving, according to the complaint. Heimbach told Bailey he never has had a driver’s license and didn’t have the registration or insurance for the vehicle, the complaint alleges.
Asked by Bailey, Heimbach also volunteered that he had a marijuana pipe, a marijuana grinder and a pair of brass knuckles in the car, the complaint alleges.
Heimbach was released on $10,500 bond after an initial appearance before Harrison Magistrate Frank DeMarco.
Court records indicate Heimbach has failed to pay costs or restitution on prior misdemeanor convictions for possession and transfer of stolen property; domestic battery; petit larceny; shoplifting; and destruction of property.
Two of those misdemeanor convictions resolved cases in which Heimbach initially had been facing felony charges.
Court documents indicate Heimbach may recently have been living in Ohio County.
• Kelly Cole, 37, of Nutter Fort, has waived her probable cause hearing before Harrison Magistrate Warren “Gizzy” Davis, according to Assistant Prosecutor Shawn Adkins.
The waiver sends to circuit court the felony third-offense shoplifting charge against Cole, who was represented by Assistant Defender Eric Householder in Thursday’s court action.