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Cherry v. Sunoco

August 17, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rufe, J.


Plaintiff John Cherry brings this action against Defendant Sunoco, Inc. alleging that Defendant engaged in religious discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"),*fn1 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"),*fn2 when it terminated Plaintiff for refusing to pose for a photograph to be used in a photographic identification credential ("photo ID"). Before the Court are Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment,*fn3 Plaintiff's Response*fn4 and Defendant's Reply.*fn5 For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendant's Motion.


On or about March 26, 2001, Defendant hired Plaintiff as a refinery operator at its Philadelphia refinery.*fn6 Defendant's Philadelphia refinery is a large oil refining facility located on the banks of the Schuylkill River.*fn7 It is a massive facility that resides on approximately one thousand acres of land and employs over 1,500 employees.*fn8 As a refinery operator at the Philadelphia facility, Plaintiff was a member of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union ("Union").*fn9

When Plaintiff was hired, Defendant had a policy in place that required its employees to have photo ID.*fn10 Plaintiff was granted an exception to this rule because of his religious beliefs.*fn11 Specifically, Plaintiff is a member of the Church of the True and Living God, a sect of Hebrew Israelites.*fn12 Plaintiff believes that the Second Commandment prohibits him for posing for pictures or photographs, and from carrying the same upon his person.*fn13 It is not against Plaintiff's religion to have a photograph taken of him without his consent, as long as he is not posing for it.*fn14 Plaintiff has never willingly posed for a photograph.*fn15 From 2001 up and until the events in question, Defendant provided Plaintiff with an employee ID without a photograph.*fn16 Even after the events of September 11, 2001, Defendant still accommodated Plaintiff's refusal to pose for a photograph, but required him to report to security when he came into work to show his badge.*fn17 Plaintiff's supervisor would sometimes verify Plaintiff's identify if the security guard on duty did not know Plaintiff.*fn18

Of the many operating units at the Philadelphia refinery, Plaintiff worked in the catalyst cracking unit, which was responsible for heating and condensing crude oil.*fn19 When Plaintiff arrived at work each day, he would first go through the security gate and swipe his employee ID to gain access to the refinery.*fn20 After going through the security gate, Plaintiff would walk about two minutes to report to his work location, Building 868 or the "block house."*fn21 Plaintiff worked a twelve-hour shift, ten of which he spent in the block house.*fn22 The remaining two hours he spent at other work locations inside the refinery.*fn23

In 2002, Congress enacted the Maritime Transportation Safety Act ("MTSA").*fn24 The United States Coast Guard then enacted regulations "to implement portions of the maritime security regime" as required by the MTSA ("Regulations").*fn25 Defendant was required to be in compliance with the MTSA and these Regulations on or before June 30, 2004.*fn26 Complying with the new Regulations, Defendant developed a Facility Safety Plan ("FSP"),*fn27 which required all employees at the Philadelphia refinery to carry photo IDs.*fn28

Prior to the effective date of the FSP, William Capresecco, Defendant's Manager of Human Resources for the Philadelphia refinery, informed the president of Plaintiff's local Union that all employees would have to have photo ID and that it was required by law.*fn29 On June 4, 2004, Mr. Capresecco also provided Plaintiff's Union representative with a copy of the "section of the MTSA that the company used in developing its 'new' security guidelines."*fn30 On or about August 10, 2004, Plaintiff was informed that because of the implementation of "some different laws," he would have to pose for a photograph for identification purposes.*fn31 Plaintiff refused and as a result, a conference was scheduled for the following Friday.*fn32

The following persons attended a meeting held on or about August 13, 2004: Plaintiff; Gerry McBride, the superintendent of Plaintiff's unit;*fn33 Jim Savage, Plaintiff's Union represenative;*fn34 Mr. Capresecco;*fn35 and Megan Kuzinski, a human resources analyst.*fn36 At the meeting, Plaintiff was again informed that Defendant was requiring a photo ID for all employees and that he must pose for a photograph in order to continue his employment with Defendant.*fn37 Plaintiff continued to refuse, explaining that his religious belief dictated his refusal and submitting a corresponding letter from his church.*fn38 Mr. Savage asked if Plaintiff could present his driver's license in conjunction with his current employee ID without a photo.*fn39 It was reiterated that Plaintiff needed to have a photo ID as a result of a new law and/or regulations.*fn40 According to Plaintiff, he then requested to see the law, but was told a copy was not on hand.*fn41 In his deposition, Plaintiff also testified that during the meeting he suggested that his identification could be verified by his supervisor, as it had in the past.*fn42

At the end of the meeting, Mr. Capresecco suspended Plaintiff without pay.*fn43 In his deposition, Plaintiff testified that Mr. Savage objected to his suspension, as they were not shown any documents proving that a photograph was required and he himself did not know of and had not seen any such documents.*fn44 During his deposition, Plaintiff stated several times that he was unaware of the MTSA and its Regulations until right before his arbitration hearing.*fn45 By letter dated August 19, 2004, Plaintiff was terminated for his refusal to comply with employee identification requirements, effective as of the date of that letter.*fn46 The Union filed a grievance upon Plaintiff's behalf, and it proceeded to arbitration.*fn47 At some point prior to the arbitration of the grievance but after Plaintiff's termination, Mr. Savage did obtain a copy of the Regulations and provided the same to Plaintiff.*fn48

During the arbitration hearing, Defendant called William Towers to testify.*fn49 In the summer of 2004, Mr. Towers was the operations supervisor for the implementation and execution of the MTSA.*fn50 As part of his job duties, Mr. Tower ensured that Defendant's facilities, including the Philadelphia refinery, were in compliance with the FSP and the MTSA.*fn51 Mr. Towers testified that the Philadelphia refinery was covered by the MTSA as a port facility.*fn52 Mr. Towers also testified that in July of 2004, he contacted the chief petty officer of the Coast Guard who was in charge of the Philadelphia refinery.*fn53 He asked him if the photo ID requirement could be waived and was told that it could not be waived.*fn54 According to Mr. Towers, the Philadelphia refinery was inspected or audited almost every day by the Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security or the border patrol with Customs.*fn55 Mr. Towers testified that a photo ID would be necessary for the identification of an employee after entering the Philadelphia refinery due to the constant audits and inspections, as well as any additional security measures that may be required.*fn56

With regard to accommodating his religious beliefs, Plaintiff stated in his response to Defendant's interrogatories that prior to his termination, in addition to suggesting a supervisor verify his identity and that he show his non-photo driver's license, he also suggested that he be escorted to his work location rather than proceeding unescorted.*fn57 During the grievance process, Plaintiff claims he suggested his religious beliefs be accommodated using biometric identification, such as fingerprints or iris scan, which he offered to pay for at least in part.*fn58 Finally, according to his response to Defendant's interrogatories, Plaintiff also offered to allow his photographic image to be captured by security cameras.*fn59 Plaintiff admitted at his deposition that he has no direct knowledge of Defendant's security systems beyond the process of entering the Philadelphia refinery through the security gates.*fn60 Defendant contends that Plaintiff requested no other accommodation beyond eliminating the photo identification requirement.*fn61

After Plaintiff's grievance was denied by the arbitrator, Mr. Savage advised him to file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Resources Commission ("PHRC").*fn62 As part of the PHRC's investigation into Plaintiff's complaint, further clarification on the Regulations was requested from the Coast Guard, specifically whether the requirement for a photo ID could be waived or any accommodation made.*fn63 The Coast Guard responded in the negative, stating:

There is no exception to these minimum standards, nor any allowance for accommodation. Verifying a person's identity is a key component of our maritime security regulatory regime. It is imperative that any form of personal identification presented allow for the accurate verification of the identity of the person presenting the piece of identification. Without a photograph the identity of ...

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