666 Lawsuit: Georgia factory fired worker for refusing to wear “666”
Billy E. Hyatt, a former employee of the Berry Plastics Corporation, claims his employer fired him because he refused to wear a sticker with the number 666 on it. Since 2007, workers at Berry Plastics have worn stickers to show the number of days that the company has gone without an accident.
On the 666th accident-free day on March 12, 2009, however, Mr. Hyatt refused to wear a sticker with the number 666. Mr. Hyatt is a Christian and believed that if he accepted the sticker he would be condemned to hell. So, his supervisor gave him the option of taking a three-day suspension or reporting for work and wearing the sticker.
Rather than wear the sticker, Mr. Hyatt took the three-day suspension. Afterwards, he claims Berry Plastics terminated his employment. Mr. Hyatt has since filed lawsuit claiming religious discrimination.
There are a lot of dopey things about this case.
Let’s start with Mr. Hyatt’s beliefs.
Though Mr. Hyatt has strong feelings about his beliefs, it would appear that his actual knowledge of his religion is sorely lacking. First, the authors of the bible did not speak English or use Arabic numerals. Instead, the Bible was written in Aramaic and Greek by people who used Roman numerals. As the t-shirt illustrates beautifully above, 666 is DCLXVI in Roman numerals. Nothing in the Bible indicates that the mark of the beast will arrive in the form of Arabic numbers.
Moreover, it is hard to understand how wearing a sticker proclaiming the number of days that a company has gone without an accident could be conflated with the mark of the beast. The sticker, for starters, isn’t placed on the wearer’s forehead or right hand —
“He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” Revelation 13:16-17
Maybe most important, if the sticker really is the mark of the beast, god is supposed to protect him when he refuses it. So, one would think Mr. Hyatt wouldn’t need to seek protection in federal court because he would seek the help of a higher power.
All that said, Mr. Hyatt may have a strong case for religious discrimination. According to the complaint, Mr. Hyatt has a sincere belief that his religion prohibits his wearing the number 666 and that Mr. Hyatt informed his employer of his beliefs. The complaint claims that Mr. Hyatt raised his concern about the 666 sticker early on in the sticker-wearing process, and alerted his supervisors as the 666th day approached. According to Mr. Hyatt, Berry Plastics ridiculed his belief and failed to take any effort to accommodate his belief. What is worse, it appears from the complaint that not only did the company fail to accommodate his belief, they terminated him because of it.
Though I don’t ascribe to Mr. Hyatt’s belief system, I like his chances in this lawsuit here. The scriptural basis for plaintiff’s beliefs can be found in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Chapters of Revelation. Indeed, a couple of courts have already looked at similar views regarding the “mark of the beast” and have ruled that in those cases it was a sincere religious belief.
And, from the allegations in the complaint, it doesn’t appear that Berry Plastics made any good-faith effort to accommodate Hyatt’s belief. One can think of a slew of ways to accommodate an employee in this situation — let him not wear a sticker that one day, let him skip to number 668, let him wear 667 twice, or let him put an asterisk in between one of the 6s. Sometimes simple solutions really work.
It is not clear from the complaint why Berry Plastics felt so strongly about the sticker policy. Maybe the company thought that allowing one employee to skip the sticker for one day would jeopardize their sticker-wearing policy. It seems a little silly to battle this out in court though.
To be fair, the company has not responded to the complaint, and as often happens in employment cases there are two sides to every story. It is rare that companies terminate their best employees. So it could be that the employer had a non-discriminatory reason to terminate Mr. Hyatt’s employment.
Time will tell.
A copy of the complaint can be found here.