Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Wallace v. City of Philadelphia

April 26, 2010

KENNETH WALLACE PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court is Defendant City of Philadelphia's ("Defendant" or the "City") Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 31) ("Motion"), Plaintiff Kenneth Wallace's ("Plaintiff") Opposition thereto (Dkt. No. 32) ("Pl. Opp."), and Defendant's Reply (Dkt. No. 33) ("Def. Reply").*fn1 In this employment discrimination case, the City argues that a police officer's request to wear his beard beyond the length permitted by policy for religious reasons cannot be reasonably accommodated without imposing an undue burden upon the City, and that he was not retaliated against for complaining about discrimination under said policy. The Court agrees. Upon close and careful consideration of the parties' extensive briefing and statements of fact, the Court concludes that there are no disputes of material fact that would present a genuine issue for trial, and finds that Defendant is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Accordingly, for the reasons discussed infra, the Court will grant the motion.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On September 22, 2006, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendant alleging that the City intentionally discriminated against him by refusing to accommodate his religious beliefs, then retaliated against him for complaining about the City's allegedly unlawful discrimination. He seeks relief under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII") (Counts I and II) and the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act, 71 P.S. § 2402, et seq. (Count III). Defendant filed its Answer to the Complaint on November 10, 2006. The case was placed in suspense on January 10, 2007, pending Plaintiff's receipt of a Right-to-Sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"),*fn2 then removed from suspense on August 11, 2008.

On September 19, 2008, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, alleging religious discrimination and retaliation under Title VII (Counts I and II) as well as under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 955, et seq. ("PHRA") (Counts III and IV). Defendant filed its Answer to the Amended Complaint on October 24, 2008. On November 13, 2008, this matter was reassigned from the calendar of the Honorable Mary A. McLaughlin to the calendar of the Honorable C. Darnell Jones II. Defendant filed this Motion on November 27, 2009; Plaintiff filed its Opposition in response on December 28, 2009 and Defendant's Reply was docketed on January 11, 2010.*fn3

II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

The Court recites the undisputed material facts as viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.*fn4

Plaintiff began working for the City's Police Department (the "Department") in December 1996 as a recruit, and graduated from the police academy in May 1997. (Pl. Dep. 12:16-21.) He became a practicing Muslim in 1998; in May 2003, Plaintiff submitted a memorandum to his supervisor, Lieutenant Arch, in which he indicated that he would begin to wear a beard in observance of his religious beliefs. (Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 6-7; see also Def. Mem., Ex. 3, Memorandum from Plaintiff to Lt. Arch dated May 21, 2003 ("Arch Mem.").)

Beginning in 1999, the Police Department implemented Directive 78, an internal policy which set forth the Department's requirements and prohibitions for all police personnel regarding uniforms and personal appearance (Def. Mem., Ex. 4, Philadelphia Police Department Directive 78. ("Directive 78").) Directive 78 explicitly prohibited beards and goatees, "except when consistent with assignment." (Id. at 78-09.) Plaintiff began to wear his beard without first obtaining the permission of the Police Commissioner; he was admonished and disciplined for said violations. (Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 8-11.)

At the time Plaintiff began growing his beard in or about May 2003, Directive 78 had an exemption to the restriction on facial hair for beards worn for medical purposes. (Directive 78 at 78-09.) Under the medical exception, the Police Department permitted personnel to grow a beard: for health reasons when a waiver is authorized by the Safety Office based upon the advice of the City's Medical Director that the employee has a medical condition that prevents him from shaving. If a waiver is authorized, facial hair will be kept trimmed and neat, not to exceed 1/4" in length. Individuals granted a waiver shall be monitored and reviewed by the medical director every three months to determine if the medical condition persists to warrant the continuation of the waiver. (Directive 78 at 78-09 to 78-10.) In his memorandum to Lieutenant Arch, Plaintiff noted that the Circuit Court of Appeals had recently ruled in favor of Muslim police officers' right to wear beards for religious reasons. (Arch Mem.) Plaintiff emphasized that Islam: dictates that all Muslims are easily identifiable by having a well-maintained and distinguishing appearance. These things not only make it easier for one Muslim to identify another, but also assures that Muslims maintain a certain reputation. One of the ways that Muslims can achieve this is by keeping a facial beard. (Id.)

Lieutenant Arch passed Plaintiff's memorandum up the chain of command to then Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson. (Pl. Dep. 47:05-10.) Commissioner Johnson then consulted the City of Philadelphia's Law Department, which directed him as to the appropriate response to Plaintiff's memorandum. (Def. Mem., Ex. 6, Deposition of Commissioner Johnson ("Johnson Dep.") 13:02-17.) On August 14, 2003, Directive 78 was modified to permit a religious exception for beards.*fn5 (Def. Mem., Ex. 5, Change to Directive 78.) The religious exception set forth requirements similar to the medical exception:

A beard may be worn when a waiver is authorized by the Police Commissioner. A waiver will only be authorized upon a showing from the employee by his religious leader that the employee practices a religion that requires him to wear a beard. The request for a waiver must have the name of the religion and the specific beard requirement and must be on the religious institution's letterhead. The documentation must be notarized or subject to verification. If a waiver is authorized, facial hair will be kept trimmed and neat, not to exceed 1/4" in length. Waivers expire after 12 months and employees must reapply at the end of each term. (Directive 78 at 78-10.)

According to Commissioner Johnson, the Department modified Directive 78 to include the religious exception in light of the Third Circuit decision mentioned in Plaintiff's memorandum to Lieutenant Arch, which mandated that a municipality which had an exemption to its grooming requirements for medical conditions could not refuse to make the identical exception as a religious accommodation. (Def. Mem., Ex. 6, Deposition of Commissioner Johnson ("Johnson Dep.") 11:09-17 (referencing FOP Newark Lodge No. 12 v. City of Newark, 170 F.3d 359, 366-67 (3d Cir. 1999)).*fn6 Commissioner Johnson stated that the religious exception pertained to all religions and was not created exclusively for Muslims, although at the time only Muslim officers were requesting such waivers. (Johnson Dep. 20:01-15.) Subsequent to the implementation of this religious exception to the beard prohibition, Plaintiff sought a waiver for the purpose of wearing a beard in observance of his religion.*fn7

According to Plaintiff, "[t]he importance of the beard in Islam is a few reasons. The number one reason is that it was a command by the Prophet Mohammad to grow the beard and to trim the mustache and to be different and to be easily recognized by your brethren that's in your religion." (Pl. Dep. 20:18-24.) Plaintiff also asserts that "the requirement [of his religion] is basically for you to not cut your beard if you can grow your beard." (Id. at 23:13-15.) Plaintiff admits, however, that he "know[s] a lot of Muslims that don't have beards," and that not all of those Muslims were physically unable to grow a beard. (Id. at 25:06-12.)

Commissioner Johnson, for his part, testified that Directive 78 and its religious accommodation provision were designed to create uniformity and neutrality before the public:

If a person has a quarter-of-an-inch beard, by looking at him, you couldn't tell whether he's going to be a Muslim or he's going to be this or he has a condition. It doesn't indicate anything that has to do with religion...being a private military organization, there's rules and regulation [sic] that we have that people have to follow...I mean, it's the same as a person that comes and wants to wear a yellow shirt. It doesn't matter what they want to ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.