Plaintiff, a Fundamentalist Christian, disavowed his Social Security number when he turned 18 years old, stating that he believes an identification number constitutes the “Mark of the Beast.” When he applied for a job, he refused to provide a Social Security number, and the employer refused to hire him. Plaintiff sued for failure to accommodate his religious belief, arguing that accommodating his refusal to supply a Social Security number would not be an undue hardship for the employer.
The employer moved to dismiss the lawsuit, contending that the requirement to provide a Social Security number is imposed by federal law, rather than by the employer. Thus, the employer could not be held to have instituted an “employment requirement” that conflicted with plaintiff’s religious beliefs.
A federal district judge in Ohio granted the employer’s motion, observing that the Internal Revenue Service, not the employer, requires that every employee have a Social Security number. Moreover, the court observed, both the employee and the employer would face IRS penalties for not reporting the employee’s Social Security number. Plaintiff appealed, but the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision. Yeager v. FirstEnergy Generation Corp., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 2257 (6th Cir. 2015). The court ruled that an employer is not liable under Title VII for a failure to accommodate an employee’s or an applicant’s religious beliefs where the proposed accommodation would require the employer to violate federal law.