Former bus driver files lawsuit
A former bus driver for the company that transports students within the Altoona Area School District has filed a federal lawsuit claiming religious discrimination, stating she was terminated from the job she had for 14 years after refusing to be fingerprinted.
In the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Johnstown, Bonnie F. Kaite of the Juniata section of Altoona, said she was required to undergo a criminal background check 14 months ago as part
of a recently passed state law.
The background investigation included a fingerprint check.
She told her employer, Altoona Student Transportation Inc., a for-profit company contracted by the school district to provide transportation for more than 4,500 students daily, that it was against her Christian religious beliefs to be fingerprinted.
She cited the Book of Revelation prohibiting the “mark of the devil,” which she maintains includes fingerprinting.
In the lawsuit prepared by Pittsburgh attorneys Samuel J. Cordes and Nicholas A. Krakoff, she stated she believes being fingerprinted will bar her entry into heaven.
Kaite requested that her religious beliefs be accommodated and that the background check include other methods to conform to
“Despite Kaite’s request for an accommodation for her religious beliefs, (her employer) informed her on or around Dec. 30, 2015, that no accommodations were available and that due to her failure to comply with the fingerprinting requirement, she was terminated effective Dec. 31, 2015,” the lawsuit stated.
She filed a religious discrimination charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission last March.
The federal EEOC issued a notice of her right to sue on Oct., 31, 2016.
She filed her federal lawsuit within the 90-day window from the issuance of the right-to-sue notice.
Since the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case in 2011, Pennsylvania has enhanced the requirements for background checks for employees of public and private schools, independent contractors like Altoona Student Transportation Inc., student teachers and anyone else, such as volunteers, who will have direct contact with children.
The background checks include a child abuse history clearance, a state police records review and a federal criminal history review. The federal background check requires fingerprint checks, as well.
However, the Kaite lawsuit claims the background checks conducted by the transportation company included at least one worker who was granted an alternative to the fingerprinting requirement. That employee was permitted to continue her employment.
Kaite is asking U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson to declare her termination to be in violation of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, that she be reinstated to her job and that she receive back wages and benefits.
She also wants the court to grant her an alternative background check that does not involve fingerprinting.
The U.S. District Court has placed the lawsuit into its Alternative Dispute Resolution Program.
A spokesman for Altoona Student Transportation Inc. indicated his organization contracts with the school district to transport area students to school each day. He referred any further comment to the organization’s human resources director.
The Mirror was unable to contact Kaite, but her attorney said she remains unemployed.
He said she does not belong to a specific church but has a religious adviser.
He explained there is legal precedent allowing organizations to accommodate religious beliefs that may seemingly be in opposition to the law or regulations.
He cited a case in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, written years ago by present Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, which he said reflects on Kaite’s argument.
In that case, a Native American challenged a municipal permit fee required for keeping a bear on his property.
The plaintiff contended the fee violated his religious beliefs as an Indian “holy man,” which included the keeping of a bear. The court ordered his beliefs be accommodated. The case was Blackhawk v. Pennsylvania.
It established the standard of review for the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, according to a 2006 memorandum prepared by the Native American Rights Fund, reviewing Alito’s then pending nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.