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Philadelphia-based Sunoco Inc. has been hit with a class-action race discrimination suit in U.S. District Court by a group of black workers who say the company keeps them in lower paying jobs by preventing or discouraging them from getting training that would lead to promotions. “The majority of blacks that have been employed by Sunoco are limited to staff positions and denied key management positions that instead go to whites,” the suit alleges. In addition to the “glass ceiling” allegations, the suit also says black workers at Sunoco are forced to toil in a “hostile environment” in which their white supervisors and co-workers routinely make racially derogatory remarks and otherwise harass black workers. Attorneys Robert T. Vance, Adrian J. Moody and Isaac H. Green filed the suit along with a team of class-action specialists from Philadelphia-based Kohn Swift & Graf — Joseph C. Kohn, Martin J. D’Urso, Robert J. LaRocca and Neil Glazer. The suit says Sunoco is one of the largest independent petroleum refiner-marketers in the United States, operating five refineries and 3,500 retail outlets in 17 states, and employing about 11,000 people. The proposed class of black workers includes those who work in the refineries and in office settings, such as Sunoco’s corporate headquarters in Center City Philadelphia. Sunoco spokesman Jerry Davis said the company never comments on pending litigation, but that Sunoco “has a policy of respect for all employees” and does its best to provide “equal opportunity without regard to race.” But according to the suit, Sunoco’s anti-discrimination policies aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. The company’s white managers have “broad discretion” in implementing the policies, the suit says, and Sunoco provides no guidance to them in exercising their discretion. “As a result, those policies and procedures are applied in an inherently subjective manner and are neither effective nor adequate in remedying the racial discrimination and harassment present throughout Sunoco,” the suit alleges. “Sunoco’s failure to enforce its own policies and to follow its own procedures fosters and promotes racial harassment and racially discriminatory employment decisions,” the suit says. The seven black workers who filed the suit claim that blacks receive less pay than whites for doing the same work. They also say that black workers who complain of harassment or racism in promotions and pay suffer retaliation — either being fired or exposed to escalating criticism of their job performance. The suit includes details of the experiences of the named plaintiffs and the discrimination they allegedly suffered over the years. DeWayne Ketchum, who has worked at Sunoco for more than 20 years, claims he has repeatedly been passed over for promotions in favor of whites who had less experience. And when he was promoted to a manager’s post in the accounting department, Ketchum says, he was given a lower job grade and paid less than his white predecessor. Later, when Ketchum was moved from the cash management department, the white worker who took over his job was given a higher grade and paid more, the suit alleges. The suit, Ketchum v. Sunoco Inc., 01-cv-1042, has been assigned to Senior U.S. District Judge Clifford Scott Green.

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