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Mathis v. Christian Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 8, 2014

PAUL MATHIS, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTIAN HEATING AND AIR CONDITIONING, INC., Defendant

Decided October 7, 2014

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For PAUL MATHIS, Plaintiff: ADAM C. LEASE, LEAD ATTORNEY, ARI RISSON KARPF, KARPF KARPF & CERUTTI PC, BENSALEM, PA.

For CHRISTIAN HEATING AND AIR CONDITIONING, INC., Defendant: FREDERICK T. LACHAT, JR., PHILADELPHIA, PA.

Page 570

MEMORANDUM

Hon. Jan E. DuBois, J.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Paul Mathis brings this action against his former employer, Christian Heating and Air Conditioning. Mathis alleges

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violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. § § 2000e et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. § § 951 et seq. Presently before the Court is defendant's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, the Court grants that part of defendant's Motion that seeks dismissal of plaintiff's failure to accommodate claim under Title VII and denies the Motion with respect to plaintiff's claim of unlawful retaliation under Title VII.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was employed from April 26, 2010 until January 24, 2012 as a full-time sheet metal installer for defendant, Christian Heating and Air Conditioning. The company is owned by David Peppelman, who also served as plaintiff's supervisor. Plaintiff claims that during his employment he was repeatedly subjected to comments from Mr. Peppelman about his religious beliefs and that Mr. Peppelman continuously insisted that plaintiff attend church. (Compl. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Peppelman continued making such comments throughout his employment notwithstanding numerous requests to stop. (Compl. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff was also required to wear an identification badge with defendant's mission statement printed on the back, which read in part: " This company is not only a business, it is a ministry. It is set on standards that are higher than man's own. Our goal is to run this company in a way most pleasing to the lord [sic]...." (Compl. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff wore the badge during work hours but covered the mission statement with a piece of tape. Plaintiff claims that the mission statement on the badge was an attempt by defendant to " enforce certain religious ideologies on its employees (including him)," (Compl. ¶ 20), and that wearing the badge conflicted with his own beliefs as an atheist. (Compl. ¶ 10.)

On January 23, 2012, plaintiff claims that Mr. Peppelman approached him and told him that he could not continue to work unless he removed the tape from the back of his identification badge. (Compl. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff states that he informed Mr. Peppelman that he wanted to continue to conceal the mission statement because it conflicted with his religious beliefs and he felt that the badge was an attempt by defendant to force its own religious beliefs on him. (Compl. ¶ 21.) Defendant declined to allow plaintiff to conceal the mission statement. (Compl. ¶ 22); (Def.'s Answer with Affirmative Defenses, ¶ 22 (" ...Plaintiff was advised that he would not be permitted to conceal the reverse side of the employee ID badge if he wished to continue employment. Plaintiff refused the directive and voluntarily resigned...." ).) Plaintiff was terminated from employment on January 23, 2012. (Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss 3.)

Plaintiff subsequently applied for unemployment compensation benefits to the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Service Center but received a Notice of Determination denying benefits dated February 8, 2012. (Def.'s Mot. Dismiss, Ex. I at 3A, 29A.) Plaintiff filed an appeal of the denial of benefits and a hearing was held before a referee on March 21, 2012. (Id.) David Peppelman and Anita Peppelman, defendant's administrator, testified without counsel at the hearing, but plaintiff failed to appear. (Id. at 47A.) The Referee denied benefits. (Id. at 74A.) Plaintiff appealed the denial of benefits by the Referee to the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (UCBR), explained the reasons for his failure to attend the hearing before the Referee, and requested a remand hearing. (Id. at 80A, 86A-87A.) The UCBR directed the Referee

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to schedule a remand hearing, which was held on June 12, 2012. Plaintiff appeared at the remand hearing with counsel, as did David Peppelman and Anita Peppelman. (Id. at 278A.) On July 18, 2012, the UCBR issued its Decision and Order and noted that it had considered the testimony from both hearings in reaching its decision.

The UCBR made the following findings of fact:

(1) For the purpose of this appeal, the claimant [Mathis] last worked for Christian Heating & Air Conditioning as a full time sheet metal installer from April 26, 2010 until January 23, 2012, his last day of work, with a final rate of pay of $25.00 per hour.
(2) The employer maintains a mission statement which includes a religious goal.
(3) The employee identification badge contained the mission statement at the time that the claimant was hired.
(4) The employer does not require that employees share the owners' religious beliefs.
(5) The claimant had not informed the employer he had any issue with the employer's mission statement.
(6) The mission statement is printed on the reverse of the employee's identification badge.
(7) Employees are required to wear uniforms, including the badge, at all times.
(8) On January 23, 2012, the employer's owner learned the claimant had covered the mission statement on his badge with duct tape.
(9) The owner asked the claimant why he had done so.
(10) The claimant informed the employer the statement was against his religious freedom.
(11) The owner told the claimant to remove the duct tape or he could leave.
(12) The claimant chose to leave and the work relationship ended.

(Def.'s Mot. Dismiss, Ex. E, Board's Decision and Order.) Based on these findings, the UCBR concluded that plaintiff had chosen to leave his employment and that his separation from defendant was a voluntary quit under ยง 402(b) of ...


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