A school bus driver fired after refusing to be fingerprinted for a background check because she believed it would mean she was accepting the “mark of the devil” can sue her employer for religious discrimination, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson of the Western District of Pennsylvania denied Altoona Student Transportation’s request to toss Bonnie F. Kaite’s civil rights case. Citing the Book of Revelation in the Bible, Kaite, who worked at the company from 2001 until 2015, refused the background check on grounds that accepting the mark of the devil would deny her entry into heaven.
While Altoona Student Transportation raised concerns that not having a vetted driver under the then-newly passed state law in 2015 requiring fingerprinting could expose the company to criminal liability, the judge wrote in his opinion that Kaite had made a good enough preliminary case to move forward.
“Plaintiff states that she has a sincere religious belief that being fingerprinted constitutes the ‘mark of the devil’ and would prevent her from going to heaven, and that this belief conflicts with her job requirement that she undergo a background check,” Gibson said. “Plaintiff informed defendant of her sincerely held religious belief and was subsequently terminated for failing to comply with the fingerprinting requirement. Plaintiff alleged facts that give rise to a plausible claim for religious discrimination. At this early stage, nothing more is required.”
Kaite claimed that she was denied an alternative form of background checking, and Altoona Student Transportation, despite pushing for background checks for its employees, allowed at least one driver with “unreadable” fingerprints to continue working when an alternative was not available.
Her suit was filed under the religious discrimination provision found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Kaite additionally filed on grounds of retaliation and a related claim under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which Gibson also allowed to move forward.
“The complaint does not allege that anyone other than defendant made the decision to deny plaintiff’s accommodation and terminate plaintiff’s employment,” Gibson said. “Defendant avers that it contacted various governmental entities in a good faith attempt to accommodate plaintiff but, through those conversations, concluded that it could not do so without subjecting itself to an undue hardship. However, this court cannot weigh the veracity of defendant’s alternative facts at this time, as it must accept as true the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint.”
Samuel J. Cordes of Samuel J. Cordes & Associates in Pittsburgh represents Kaite and did not respond to a request for comment. Altoona Student Transportation’s attorney, Douglas G. Smith of Jackson Lewis in Pittsburgh, also did not respond to a request for comment.