RELIGIOUS OBJECTION TO MANDATORY FINGERPRINTING « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


Employer Must Properly Address Faith-Based Protest

Employers must correctly field and handle an employee’s religiously-based objection to a workplace requirement, even when the employer’s requirement is mandated by law.

For example, in Kaite v. Altoona Student Transportation, Inc., plaintiff worked as a Pennsylvania school bus driver for employer Altoona Student Transportation (AST). AST began implementing mandatory background checks, which required fingerprinting as required by a newly-issued state Child Protective Services Law (CPSL).

Plaintiff, a devout Christian, informed AST that the Book of Revelation prohibits the “mark of the devil” which she believed included fingerprinting and that she would not get into Heaven if fingerprinted. She asked AST for an accommodation, such as undergoing a different type of background check that did not require fingerprinting.

AST purportedly informed her that no accommodations were available and terminated her employment for refusing to comply with CPSL’s fingerprinting requirement.

Asserting that AST allowed at least one employee with “unreadable” fingerprints to participate in an alternative background check, plaintiff’s ensuing lawsuit alleged religious discrimination and unlawful retaliation.

In response, AST filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff’s case asserting that none of her claims were legally valid. In support, AST alleged that it could face criminal liability if it failed to comply with the state-imposed fingerprinting requirement.

The federal court refused to dismiss plaintiff’s lawsuit at this early stage, most likely leaving it up to a jury to decide whether AST engaged in a good faith attempt to find a reasonable accommodation for the plaintiff, such as an alternative background check, and whether the employer was ultimately unable to accommodate her without incurring so-called “undue hardship” in risking criminal liability for not enforcing the state’s fingerprinting requirements.

Employers should always proceed with caution when responding to an employee’s religious objection to any workplace requirement. Only where accommodation choices would legitimately impose undue hardship – a legal term with very specific definitions under federal and state law — is the company justified in requiring the worker to forgo the religious practice as an employment condition.

For further information, please contact Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

See also:

Accommodating Religious Practices (June, 2015)

Employer Duties to Fight Religious Prejudice (May, 2014)

New CA Labor Laws 2013: Religious Dress and Grooming and Employer’s Increased Duties to Accommodate (February, 2013)

Accommodating Religion in the Workplace (March, 2011)

What’s God Got to Do With it? (December, 2010)

Religion in the Workplace, Have Faith in the Law (September, 2009)

Reverse Discrimination (July, 2009)

Cindy Bamforth

March 9, 2018