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SAKET v. AMERICAN AIRLINES

April 20, 2004.

MOHAMMAD SAKET, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARK FILIP, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Mohammed Saket ("Plaintiff' or "Saket") filed this suit against his former employer, defendant American Airlines ("Defendant" or "American"), alleging that American discriminated against him because of his national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. This case is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion"). (D.E. 34.) For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is, save for one limited caveat., denied.

I. Factual Background

  Mr. Saket is a naturalized United States citizen who was born and grew up in Iran.*fn1 (Pl.'s St. ¶ 1.) In June of 1997, American hired Mr. Saket (Def.'s St. ¶ 24) as a plant maintenance man. (Id ¶ 14.) In this position, his duties ranged from tasks such as "minor basic plumbing repair such as restrooms, leaks, etc." to assisting "in clean-up, storage[,] and removal of hazardous waste." (Id ¶ 15.) His crew chiefs, including crew chief Gary Weiland (Pl.'s St. ¶ 20), gave him daily work assignments. (Id ¶ 21.) Mr. Saket's crew chiefs reported to supervisors known as "Customer Service Managers." (Id ¶ 21.) Mr. Saket worked under three different Customer Service Managers, one of whom was Robert Wieczorek. (Def.'s St. ¶ 61.) Mr. Wieczorek, in turn, reported to Lauri Bourgeois. (Id.) At the time of Mr. Saket's discharge, Ms. Bourgeois, an African-American, was the highest ranking operational manager of the Facilities Maintenance Department at American's O'Hare Airport facilities. (Id)

  Mr. Saket and American paint very different pictures of Mr. Saket's work environment. According to Mr. Saket, in the spring of 1998, he complained to his crew chief Gary Weiland that he felt that a majority of the work that Mr. Weiland assigned to him consisted of bathroom, painting, and outdoor duties, and that these duties were not assigned as frequently to non-Iranian plant maintenance men. (Saket Aff. ¶ 21.) Mr. Saket further contends that Mr. Weiland stated that "[t]he only work I have for terrorist people like you is painting and bathroom repair. If you don't like it, leave." (Id) Mr. Saket complained about Mr. Weiland's response to a Customer Service Manager on a Friday. (Id ¶ 22). On the following Monday, Mr. Weiland told Mr. Saket that "no one could change [his] view of you people who held us hostage for 400 days"; Mr. Weiland also pointedly and while cursing advised Mr. Saket that he should not be a "squealer." (Id ¶ 25.) Mr. Saket submitted an affidavit stating that from 1997 until 2000, Mr. Weiland referred to him on a regular basis as a "camel jockey," "dot head," "rag head," "terrorist," and "hostage taker," as well as other more vulgar, derogatory terms. (Id ¶ 29.) American denies that these incidents occurred and contends that Mr. Saket has recently fabricated them so as to attempt to forestall summary judgment.

  The parties also disagree over a workplace incident regarding what the parties have referred to as the "Hangar Two Office." (Pl.'s St. ¶ 61.) Although Mr. Saket was authorized to use this office in the course of his duties (id), one of Mr. Saket's coworkers, Mr. Jensen, entered the Hangar Two Office and screamed at him, "What the [expletive] are you doing in my office, [sic] get your [expletive] terrorist [expletive] out of my office." (Saket Aff. ¶ 49.) During the course of this argument, Mr. Jensen also purportedly said to Mr. Saket, among other things, "Don't you to talk to me, you [expletive] Arab. Get the [expletive] out of here. If you don't leave here within a minute, I am going to give you a permanent dot." (Id. ¶ 50.) Mr. Saket went to Customer Service Manager Bob Wieczorek shortly after this incident to complain about Mr. Jensen's remarks and threats. (Id ¶ 52.) Mr. Wieczorek arranged a meeting between Mr. Saket; Lou Sabbia, the union steward; Mr. Jensen; and Mr. Wieczorek. (Id. ¶ 53.) After the meeting, Mr. Wieczorek told Mr. Saket that he should "forget everything," that Mr. Jensen was experiencing "a hard time at home," and that Mr. Jensen "didn't mean anything." (Id) According to Mr. Saket, Mr. Wieczorek knew that Mr. Jensen had called Mr. Saket "Mr. Ayatollah," "Mr. Terrorist," "dot head," and "Mr. Highjacker" prior to this incident. (Saket Aff. ¶ 54.) American denies that the Jensen-Saket Hanger Two incident occurred at all (Def.'s Resp. ¶¶ 62-65), and American stated that it could not verify at the time of its LR 56.1 Response whether the alleged subsequent meeting took place. (Id ¶ 67.)

  In September of 1999, Mr. Saket became licensed to perform annual fire extinguisher inspections. (Def.'s St. ¶ 27.) Shortly thereafter, Mr. Saket bid into the fire extinguisher serviceman position. (Id) In this role, Mr. Saket was responsible for performing both monthly and annual inspections of several hundred fire extinguishers located throughout American's facilities at O'Hare Airport. (Id) The normal procedure for monthly inspections was for the serviceperson to document the inspection of a particular fire extinguisher on a preventative maintenance sheet ("PM Sheet") and subsequently to update a log book to reflect that the inspection had been completed. (Pl's Resp. ¶ 20.) After performing the monthly inspection, the serviceperson was also expected to punch a hole in a metal tag affixed to the extinguisher next to the corresponding month of inspection. (Def.'s St. ¶ 21.) Mr. Weiland supervised Mr. Saket's work as a fire extinguisher serviceperson. (Pl.'s St. ¶ 120.)

  In January or February of 2000, American started preparing for an upcoming FAA audit and began planning an internal audit to ensure that testing and inspections of all fire extinguishers had been properly completed. (Def.'s St. ¶ 41.) Approximately three to four months earlier, however, Mr. Saket had received approval to take a vacation and return to Iran to get married. (Pl's St. ¶ 143.) While the record is unclear as to what American expected of Mr. Saket (or in what time frame) it is undisputed that he was feeling pressured to get all of his audit" related work done before he left for vacation. (Def.'s St. ¶ 42.)*fn2 Mr. Saket left for vacation on approximately March 17, 2000, and he returned on April 12, 2000. (Pl.'s St. ¶ 143.)

  According to American, while Mr. Saket was on vacation, American personnel preparing for the FAA audit discovered discrepancies between the log book and Mr. Saket's PM Sheets. (Wieczorek Decl. ¶ 18.) American subsequently set up a Board of Inquiry (that consisted of Mr. Wieczorek as Chairman and three other American employees) to conduct an investigation into Mr. Saket's potential falsification of fire extinguisher records. (Def.'s St. 53.) Mr. Wieczorek directed this investigation. (Pl.'s St. ¶ 109.) As a part of the investigation, American conducted several "fact-finding" conferences during which American interviewed several of Mr. Saket's coworkers. (Def.'s St. ¶ 52.)

  American determined that Mr. Saket had placed check marks in the fire extinguisher log book for various fire extinguishers without performing the actual inspections in the field. (Wieczorek Decl. ¶ 231) American arrived at this conclusion after a review of the log book and Mr. Saket's PM Sheets for those same extinguishers did not show a corresponding check mark entry. (Id.) American determined that Mr. Saket falsified the log book in an attempt to make it look like he was up to date on his inspections prior to leaving for his vacation. (Id.) American also determined that Mr. Saket falsified the punches on a metal tag located on one of the fire extinguishers. Mr. Wieczorek interviewed Mr. Weiland and relied upon Mr. Weiland's input in reaching this conclusion. (Pl.'s St. ¶ 117.) Mr. Saket denies falsifying the extinguisher records or the metal tag.

  The investigation concluded on April 19, 2000. (Def.'s St. ¶ 64.) Mr. Wieczorek presented his findings, including statements from various witnesses, to Ms. Bourgeois. (Id.) On April 20, 2000, at Ms. Bourgeois's direction, Mr. Wieczorek prepared a Final Advisory, terminating Mr. Saket from American for violating American Airline Rule 16 (Def.'s St. ¶ 74), which prohibits "[m]isrepresentation of facts or falsification of records." (Id ¶ 8.) Ms. Bourgeois considered the results of Mr. Wieczorek's investigation into Mr. Saket's alleged falsification of records, together with other input from Mr. Wieczorek, in deciding to terminate Mr. Saket. (Pl.'s St. ¶ 133.) Mr. Saket admitted that he has no reason to believe that Ms. Bourgeois's decision to terminate him was motivated by any discrimination and that she had not made any comments to him that were discriminatory, insulting, or harassing in any way. (Def.'s St. 73.)

  Mr. Saket filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on or about May 19, 2000, approximately one month after he was terminated, alleging that American discriminated against him because of his national origin. (Id. ¶ 5.) Mr. Saket filed this suit on May 14, 2002.

  On April 24, 2003, during discovery in this litigation, Magistrate Judge Nan R. Nolan ordered American to provide plaintiff with the original documents and metal tag allegedly falsified by Mr. Saket. (Pl.'s St. ¶ 107.) On June 11, 2003, American admitted that it did not have any original records, documents, or tags that Mr. Saket allegedly falsified. (Id. ¶ 108) American subsequently indicated that these records have been "misplaced." (Def.'s Resp. ¶ 108.) At their depositions, neither Mr. Wieczorek, who directed the investigation that led to American's claim that Mr. Saket falsified records, nor Ms. Bourgeois could identify in the discovery documents that American produced the specific documents or records that Mr. Saket ...


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