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Louisiana ESPs challenge a new timekeeping system, raising questions about religious beliefs and privacy.

By John Rosales

When Louisiana’s St. John the Baptist Parish School Board installed a new biometric time clock for employees, the device clashed with the religious beliefs of bus driver Sandra McCray and electrician Rev. Herman Clayton Jr.

The $85,000 scanning system assigns points on thumbprints, which identify workers when they sign in. Clayton and McCray believe that the imprint or scan of any body part amounts to assigning numbers to the body, which they say is warned against in Revelation 13:16-17.

“My finger would be reduced to numbers,” says Clayton, a minister with Providence No. 2 Baptist Church in Montz, Louisiana, and a graduate of Christian Bible College. Clayton believes that using the biometric system would render him vulnerable to evil, in accordance with “end time” doctrine.

Herman Clayton, Jr. and Sandra McCray feel they were discriminated against on the basis of their religion.
Clayton and McCray were suspended without pay for refusing to use the scanner. After their suspension, they filed grievances against the district’s school board, requesting a reasonable accommodation that would allow them to record their time by an alternative method.

Biometric scanners have sparked similar debates in the private sector.

A former van driver for Hertz Corporation and two former nursing home employees filed similar lawsuits under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s religion unless doing so would create an “undue hardship.”    

But at a parish board meeting last April, what was expected to be a debate on religious rights and reasonable accommodation ended up as a dispute over whether the board violated its contract with the St. John Association of Educators (SJAE).

“The board violated terms of its bargaining contract by unilaterally changing the employees’ attendance policy,” says Julie Richard-Spencer, the attorney representing Clayton and McCray on behalf of SJAE.

According to the union agreement, any changes in the terms of employment must be negotiated between the board and union. “Implementation of the biometric system was not bargained with the union,” she says. “The superintendent admitted that he did not bargain the issue.” In news accounts, Superintendent Michael Coburn said he did not have to consult with the union about installing the system, which affects more than 700 district workers.

The district’s timekeeping system also presents “huge privacy issues,” according to Richard-Spencer. “A thumbprint is a uniquely distinct feature,” she says. “We have no idea how the system is maintained or where the information is stored.” 

The district’s previous sign-in system required plastic cards to be swiped. It was discarded to help ensure that employees were not being signed in or out by someone else.

Clayton and McCray were permitted to manually sign in on paper as the new scanning system was being installed in October 2006. However, last February, even before the system was fully installed, they were asked again to use the scanning device and were suspended when they refused.

“I showed up for work one day and my supervisor said if I did not finger scan, I could not work,” says Clayton, who is chair of SJAE’s grievance committee. Clayton has been doing part-time contract jobs to help pay bills. “No one will hire me on a permanent basis because of the pending action with the school board.”

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