Bell v. American Eagle Airlines
RULING granting 14 Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff's claims are dismissed with prejudice. Signed by Judge Shelly D. Dick on 4/6/2017. (KAH)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
AMERICAN EAGLE AIRLINES
This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment1 by
Defendant, American Eagle Airlines (“Defendant”). Plaintiff, Ronnie Bell (“Plaintiff”) has
filed an Opposition2 to this motion, to which Defendant filed a Reply.3 For the following
reasons, the Court finds that Defendant’s motion should be granted.
Plaintiff is an African-American male who was hired by Defendant, a regional
commercial airline, in May of 2008. Plaintiff worked as a Station Agent at the Baton
Rouge Metropolitan Airport. Plaintiff’s job duties as a Station Agent included, inter alia,
working at the ticket counter, on the ramp, in baggage services, and in the movement of
equipment to load and unload passengers from an aircraft.
On August 25, 2011, Plaintiff, along with other employees of various races and
both genders, was counseled regarding his alleged failure to complete required training.
Plaintiff received a First Advisory discipline document for an incident that occurred on
Rec. Doc. No. 14.
Rec. Doc. No. 21.
Rec. Doc. No. 22.
The facts are taken from Rec. Docs. 8, 9, 14-1, 14-3, and 21.
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November 29, 2011, after the Defendant had been assigned to de-ice an aircraft in
October of 2011. A Second Advisory was issued to Plaintiff on December 14, 2011
because he failed to complete required training by the December 5, 2011 deadline.
Plaintiff had previously been counseled regarding the importance of timely completing
required training. Defendant contends a notice of this training requirement had been
posted for a month advising employees that the training deadline was December 5, 2011.
This Second Advisory informed Plaintiff that his failure to correct the issues within two
years, or any further company violations, could result in “further corrective action, up to
and including termination.”5
Despite this Second Advisory, Plaintiff was subsequently involved in an incident
on December 18, 2011, when he pulled a jetbridge to an aircraft and set its adapter so
that passengers could board.
Although Defendant contends that Plaintiff had been
properly trained on the correct way to execute this task, he allegedly set the adapter about
one foot from the top step of the aircraft and about six to eight inches over it which caused
damage to the aircraft. The damage was observed by Defendant’s station agent Megan
Hoffman (“Hoffman”) when the jetbridge was removed, and she reported the damage to
Sandy Gibson (“Gibson”), the lead agent over Plaintiff and Hoffman. When this aircraft
landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, Defendant’s personnel observed the damage and
notified the American Eagle Baton Rouge airport office.
Additionally, the Charlotte
personnel conducted a mechanical investigation which delayed the aircraft’s departure
Rec. Doc. No. 14-3, p. 65 (Exhibit 7 to Deposition of Ronnie Bell).
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Baton Rouge General Manager Bonnie Sutton (“Sutton”) interviewed Plaintiff
regarding this incident, and Plaintiff refused to accept any responsibility for the aircraft
damage.6 Plaintiff then conducted his own re-enactment of the incident without notifying
Sutton, which alarmed Sutton as such a re-enactment risked further damage to the
Sutton ultimately concluded that Bell’s placement of the adapter caused the aircraft
damage and constituted violations of Company Rules of Conduct 14, 17, and 24.7
Because Plaintiff committed these company violations after having received a Second
Advisory for previous performance issues, Defendant terminated Plaintiff’s employment
on January 3, 2012.8 Defendant also terminated Caucasian employee Sandy Gibson
based on her conduct during the same aircraft damage incident.9
Plaintiff offers a different version of these events. Plaintiff contends that his First
Advisory resulted from performing a task that he did not believe he was properly trained
to execute, and Plaintiff claims he advised the lead agent several times that he was illprepared to perform these duties.10 Plaintiff contends the Second Advisory for failing to
complete the required training was due to the fact that the lesson was on December 5,
2011, while he was on vacation. Plaintiff claims he completed this lesson after he
returned from vacation on December 15, 2011.11
Regarding the December 18, 2011 incident in which the aircraft was damaged,
Id. at p. 75.
Rec. Doc. No. 14-3, p. 66 (Exhibit 9 to Deposition of Ronnie Bell).
Rec. Doc. No. 14-3, p. 69 (Exhibit 11 to Deposition of Ronnie Bell). Sandy Gibson allowed the aircraft to
depart Baton Rouge despite noticing and reporting the damage allegedly caused by Plaintiff.
Rec. Doc. No. 21, p. 2.
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Plaintiff contends that he operated the jetbridge and adapter in the manner he was
trained, and American Eagle employee Hoffman boarded and exited the aircraft four times
without noticing any damage to the aircraft.12 Plaintiff contends that, despite this alleged
failure to properly set the jetbridge and adapter, he was never re-trained on this duty prior
to his termination, although he was tasked with performing this duty for at least two weeks
Plaintiff maintains that he was disciplined and ultimately terminated because he is
African-American. Plaintiff claims that Defendant engaged in disparate treatment of
Caucasian employees who had performance issues but were not disciplined or
terminated. Plaintiff contends Caucasian employee Gregory Long (“Long”) violated the
same rules as Plaintiff on December 10, 2011, but he was given a Final Advisory rather
than being terminated.14 Plaintiff claims that Long continued to have performance issues
but was never terminated despite the previous Final Advisory. Plaintiff also claims that
Caucasian employee Steven Jones (“Jones”) committed numerous company violations
but was not given any advisories for same.
Plaintiff makes similar claims about
employees Hoffman, “Mairlyn (last name unknown)”,15 and Gibson – that these American
Eagle employees committed similar infractions but were not disciplined or terminated
because they are Caucasian.16
Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against Defendant claiming that he was terminated
Id. at p. 3.
Id. at p. 4.
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because of his race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 196417 and the
Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law (“LEDL”).18
Defendant now moves for
summary judgment on all claims.
LAW AND ANLYSIS
A. Summary Judgment Standard
“The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter
of law.”19 “When assessing whether a dispute to any material fact exists, we consider all
of the evidence in the record but refrain from making credibility determinations or weighing
the evidence.”20 A party moving for summary judgment “must ‘demonstrate the absence
of a genuine issue of material fact,’ but need not negate the elements of the nonmovant’s
case.”21 If the moving party satisfies its burden, “the non-moving party must show that
summary judgment is inappropriate by setting ‘forth specific facts showing the existence
of a genuine issue concerning every essential component of its case.’”22 However, the
non-moving party’s burden “is not satisfied with some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a
scintilla of evidence.”23
42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.
La. R.S. § 23:301, et seq.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).
Delta & Pine Land Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co., 530 F.3d 395, 398-99 (5th Cir. 2008).
Guerin v. Pointe Coupee Parish Nursing Home, 246 F.Supp.2d 488, 494 (M.D. La. 2003)(quoting Little
v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994)(en banc)(quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 323-25, 106 S.Ct. at 2552)).
Rivera v. Houston Independent School Dist., 349 F.3d 244, 247 (5th Cir. 2003)(quoting Morris v. Covan
World Wide Moving, Inc., 144 F.3d 377, 380 (5th Cir. 1998)).
Willis v. Roche Biomedical Laboratories, Inc., 61 F.3d 313, 315 (5th Cir. 1995)(quoting Little v. Liquid Air
Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994).
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Notably, “[a] genuine issue of material fact exists, ‘if the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.’”24 All reasonable factual
inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party.25 However, “[t]he Court has no
duty to search the record for material fact issues. Rather, the party opposing the summary
judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate precisely
how this evidence supports his claim.”26 “Conclusory allegations unsupported by specific
facts … will not prevent the award of summary judgment; ‘the plaintiff [can]not rest on his
allegations … to get to a jury without any “significant probative evidence tending to
support the complaint.”’”27
B. Title VII Race Discrimination
In order to survive summary judgment, a plaintiff must satisfy the McDonnell
Douglas burden-shifting framework.28 Under this framework, a plaintiff must first establish
a prima facie case of discrimination.29 If he successfully does so, the defendant must
respond by setting forth its legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for firing the plaintiff.30 If
the defendant produces a legitimate reason, any presumption of discrimination raised by
the plaintiff's prima facie case vanishes.31 The plaintiff may still avoid summary judgment
if he “offers sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact either (1) that
the defendant's reason is not true, but is instead a pretext for discrimination (pretext
Pylant v. Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company, 497 F.3d 536, 538 (5th Cir. 2007)(quoting
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)).
Galindo v. Precision American Corp., 754 F.2d 1212, 1216 (5th Cir. 1985).
RSR Corp. v. Int’l Ins. Co., 612 F.3d 851, 857 (5th Cir. 2010).
Nat’l Ass’n of Gov’t Employees v. City Pub. Serv. Bd. of San Antonio, Tex., 40 F.3d 698, 713 (5th Cir.
1994)(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249).
See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973).
Septimus v. Univ. of Hous., 399 F.3d 601, 609 (5th Cir. 2005).
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alternative); or (2) that the defendant's reason, while true, is only one of the reasons for
its conduct, and another ‘motivating factor’ is the plaintiff's protected characteristic
1. Prima Facie Case
The Plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination by showing
that he (1) is a member of a protected class, (2) was qualified for the position, (3) was
subjected to an adverse employment action, and (4) that others similarly situated were
treated more favorably under nearly identical circumstances.33
Plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case because he cannot satisfy the fourth
requirement: Plaintiff has no summary judgment evidence that American Eagle treated
similarly situated Caucasian employees more favorably.
A Title VII plaintiff may establish the fourth element of his prima facie case by
proffering a fellow employee as a comparator to demonstrate that the employment actions
at issue were taken “under nearly identical circumstances.”34 The employment actions
occur under nearly identical circumstances “when the employees being compared held
the same job or responsibilities, shared the same supervisor or had their employment
status determined by the same person, and have essentially comparable violation
histories.”35 Importantly, the plaintiff's conduct that drew the adverse employment
decision must have been “‘nearly identical’ to that of the proffered comparator who
Vaughn v. Woodforest Bank, 665 F.3d 632, 636 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting Rachid v. Jack In The Box,
Inc., 376 F.3d 305, 312 (5th Cir. 2004)).
Little v. Republic Ref. Co., 924 F.2d 93, 97 (5th Cir.1991) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Lee v. Kan. City S. Ry. Co., 574 F.3d 253, 260 (5th Cir. 2009).
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allegedly drew dissimilar employment decisions.”36
If the “difference between the
plaintiff's conduct and that of those alleged to be similarly situated accounts for the
difference in treatment received from the employer,” the employees are not similarly
situated for the purposes of an employment discrimination analysis.37
Plaintiff maintains that he has met his prima facie burden by offering evidence that
Caucasian employees Jones, Long, Hoffman, Gibson, and “Marilyn” were not disciplined
or terminated for committing similar or arguably greater company infractions. Defendant
counters that Plaintiff has offered only his subjective opinion that these employees were
disparately treated, which is not competent summary judgment evidence. The Court
First, Plaintiff failed to follow the Local Rules and controvert Defendant’s Statement
of Uncontested Material Facts;38 thus, those facts are deemed admitted.39 The Court
acknowledges that “pro se pleadings are held to less stringent standards than pleadings
drafted by lawyers,”40 and “pro se pleadings must be treated liberally;”41 however, “a pro
se litigant is not ‘exempt ... from compliance with the relevant rules of procedural and
substantive law.’42 A pro se litigant is not entitled to greater rights than would be a litigant
represented by a lawyer.”43
Rec. Doc. No. 18-3.
See Local Rule 56(b); Bagneris v. Cain, No. 13-431-SDD, 2015 WL 4644610 at *5 (M.D. La. Aug. 4,
Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520–21 (1972).
U.S. v. Robinson, 78 F.3d 172, 174 (5th Cir.1996); Priester v. Lowndes County, 354 F.3d 414, 418 (5th
NCO Financial Systems, Inc. v. Harper–Horsley, No.07–4247, 2008 WL 2277843 at *3 (E.D.La. May 29,
2008), quoting Birl v. Estelle, 660 F.2d 592, 593 (5th Cir.1981).
Id., citing Birl, 660 F.2d at 593.
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Second, Plaintiff attaches Affidavits from a different case as evidentiary support
for his case, which is improper summary judgment evidence. These Affidavits do not
reference Plaintiff in any way, and they do not serve to create an issue of fact in this case.
An affidavit cannot be used to preclude summary judgment unless it contains competent
and otherwise admissible evidence.44
Third, Plaintiff fails to present any evidence that he and his alleged comparators
are “similarly situated” or that the employment actions at issue were taken under “nearly
identical circumstances.” Thus, even taking as true Plaintiff’s statements that these
employees committed infractions but were not disciplined or terminated, the Court has
nothing from which to determine whether these employees are truly Plaintiff’s
comparators. There is no evidence that the proffered employees hold the same job
responsibilities as Plaintiff or had essentially comparable violation histories. Further,
Defendant has offered uncontroverted competent summary judgment evidence that some
of the proffered comparators were, in fact, terminated for company violations. The record
reflects that Bonnie Sutton, the alleged discriminator, terminated Caucasian employees
Gibson, Long, and Dustin Tatum.45 Plaintiff has failed to carry his prima facie burden in
2. Legitimate, Non-discriminatory Reason/Pretext
Notwithstanding the Court’s finding above, assuming Plaintiff could meet his prima
facie burden, Defendant has presented a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for
Plaintiff’s termination, which Plaintiff is required to demonstrate is pretextual to survive
See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).
See Rec. Doc. No. 14-3, pp. 117-120.
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Defendant has presented summary judgment evidence that it
terminated Plaintiff based on its determination that Plaintiff’s job performance was
unsatisfactory. The record contains documents evidencing several disciplinary write-ups
and two written advisories for Plaintiff’s conduct prior to the aircraft damage incident in
December of 2011.46
To survive summary judgment, Plaintiff must present competent summary
judgment evidence of pretext. “A plaintiff may show pretext either through evidence of
disparate treatment or by showing that the employer's proffered explanation is false or
unworthy of credence.”47
The key issue with pretext is whether the employer's
justification, “even if incorrect, was the real reason for the plaintiff's termination. A
plaintiff's prima facie case, combined with sufficient evidence to find that the employer's
asserted justification is false, may permit the trier of fact to conclude that the employer
Plaintiff offers no evidence of pretext for the legitimate, non-discriminatory reason
for his termination. Plaintiff’s claims of disparate treatment of comparators fails for the
reasons set forth above.
Plaintiff’s deposition testimony establishes that Plaintiff
disagrees with the business decision made by Defendant, and Plaintiff disagrees with
Defendant that he was appropriately trained for the tasks he was required to perform.
This, however, is not evidence of pretext. “[A] plaintiff cannot prove that an employer's
proffered reason is pretextual merely by disputing the correctness of the employer's
Rec. Doc. No. 14-3, p. 66 (Exhibit 9 to Deposition of Ronnie Bell).
Palacios v. City of Crystal City, Tex., 634 Fed.Appx. 399, 402 (5th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted).
Goudeau v. National Oilwell Varco, L.P., 793 F.3d 470, 476 (5th Cir. 2015)(citing Reeves v. Sanderson
Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133,147-148 (2000)).
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decision.”49 Further, “in conducting a pretext analysis, we do not engage in secondguessing of an employer's business decisions. Title VII does not require employers to
make correct decisions, only nondiscriminatory decisions.”50 Plaintiff’s disagreement with
the correctness of his training, discipline, and ultimate termination by Defendant is not
evidence of pretext, and the Court may not second-guess the business decision of the
Defendant in this regard.
Moreover, the evidence that Defendant terminated three
Caucasian employees for performance issues undermines any suggestion of pretext that
race was a motivating factor in Defendant’s decision to terminate the Plaintiff.
Accordingly, Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff’s Title VII claim.
C. LEDL Claim
Plaintiff also filed a race discrimination claim under the LEDL. Defendant moves
to dismiss this claim as untimely and for the same substantive reasons as under Title VII.
The LEDL provides: “Any cause of action provided in this Chapter shall be subject to a
prescriptive period of one year.”51 “[T]his one-year period shall be suspended during the
pendency of any administrative review or investigation of the claim conducted by the
federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,” but such suspension of the
prescriptive period is limited to six months.52 Accordingly, any claim under the LEDL that
arose more than 18 months prior to the filing of the complaint is untimely.53
The Defendant contends that, because Plaintiff was terminated on January 3,
Burton v. Texas Dep't of Criminal Justice, 584 Fed.Appx. 256, 257 (5th Cir. 2014) (citations omitted).
Id. at 258.
La.Rev.Stat. § 23:303(D).
See id.; Holliday v. Commonwealth Brands, Inc., No. 10–2785, 2012 WL 72468, at *2 (E.D.La. Jan.10,
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2012, the prescription clock on his LEDL claim began on that date. Even allowing the sixmonth extension, Plaintiff had until July 3, 2013 to file suit alleging a claim under the
LEDL. It is undisputed that Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on October 30, 2015, more than two
Plaintiff argues that his LEDL claim is timely because he received a letter from the
Louisiana Commission on Human Rights (“LCHR”) stating that his charge of
discrimination was timely.55 This is of no consequence in determining whether Plaintiff
timely filed suit. Whether Plaintiff timely filed his claim with the LCHR is not dispositive of
whether he timely filed this lawsuit, and the record establishes that he did not. Thus,
Plaintiff’s LEDL claim has prescribed.
Alternatively, the Court notes that Plaintiff’s LEDL claim would be subject to
summary judgment on the merits for the same reasoning and analysis set forth under
Title VII. The scope of the LEDL is the same as Title VII and, therefore, claims under the
LEDL are analyzed under the Title VII framework and jurisprudential precedent.56 As
such, the Court’s ruling on Plaintiff’s Title VII claim applies with equal force to any LEDL
claims asserted. Therefore, Defendant is also entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff’s
See Rec. Doc. No. 1.
Rec. Doc. No. 21-1, p. 8.
La Day v. Catalyst Technology, Inc., 302 F.3d 474, 477 (5th Cir. 2002); Alderman v. Great Atlantic &
Pacific Tea Co., Inc., 332 F.Supp.2d 932, 936 (E.D.La. 2004).
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For the reasons set forth above, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment57 is
GRANTED. Plaintiff’s claims are dismissed with prejudice.
Judgment shall be entered accordingly.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Signed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on April 6, 2017.
JUDGE SHELLY D. DICK
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
Rec. Doc. No. 14.
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