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ALICEA v. NORTHWEST AIRLINES

September 24, 2004.

TINA ALICEA, Plaintiff,
v.
NORTHWEST AIRLINES, INC., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: REBECCA PALLMEYER, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Tina Alicea ("Alicea or "Plaintiff") was an employee of Defendant, Northwest Airlines, Inc. ("Northwest" or "Defendant") from 1977 until she was terminated on December 11, 2001. Defendant asserts Plaintiff was terminated for violating Northwest's Rules of Conduct by working overtime without permission, falsifying time records, and accepting pay for hours she did not work. Plaintiff admits submitting time records that overstated the hours she actually worked, but claims this was common practice at Northwest. She also claims management personnel either gave her permission to work the overtime hours in dispute, or witnessed her working overtime and did not send her home. Finally, Plaintiff contends other male employees who engaged in the same practices were not fired. Plaintiff filed this action, claiming that she was discriminated against based on her gender in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Defendant moves for summary judgment and, for the reasons set forth here, the motion is granted.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

  The following facts are taken from the parties' Rule 56.1 Statements and Responses, as well as other evidence in the record.

  Tina Alicea began working for Northwest Airlines in the air freight center as a secretary in 1977. (Complaint ¶ 12.) In 1986, Plaintiff became a Work Control Clerk, performing administrative work in the aircraft maintenance department; her regular shift was Monday through Friday, from 3:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. or 4:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (Defendant's Rule 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (hereinafter, "Def's 56.1") ¶¶ 6, 7; Luttenbacher Aff., Ex. C to Def's 56.1, ¶ 4.) Plaintiff's job duties including processing of payroll. (Complaint ¶ 15.) Dave Luttenbacher, Line Maintenance Operations Manager, became Alicea's direct supervisor in April 2001. (Def's 56.1 ¶ 11; Luttenbacher Aff. ¶ 3; Alicea Dep., Ex. B to Def.'s 56.1, at 49.) Plaintiff contends, however, that John Kasper and Mike Tempe, also managers, were "also able to lead and direct" Plaintiff's work. (Plaintiff's Statement of Uncontested Facts Pursuant to Rule 56.1, hereinafter, "Pl's 56.1," ¶ 1; Alicea Aff. ¶ 3, Ex. 1 to Pl's 56.1.) Plaintiff testified that these managers had authority to authorize overtime for her, and Luttenbacher's deposition testimony suggests that they did. (Alicea Dep., at 155; Luttenbacher Dep., Ex. 2 to Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (hereinafter, "Pl's Response"), at 15.) Luttenbacher testified, however, that when Mr. Kasper authorized Alicea to work overtime, he would report that to Luttenbacher. (Luttenbacher Dep., at 21.)

  Plaintiff's responsibilities included "maintaining and updating computer databases; processing labor-related information; monitoring departmental issues to ensure compliance with federal regulations; handling customer problems; auditing certain paperwork; participating in special projects; training others on departmental procedures and systems; and maintaining, updating and providing technical data to support aircraft maintenance." (Def's 56.1 ¶ 9; Alicea Dep., at 24; Job Description, Ex. D to Def's 56.1.) Plaintiff's responsibilities also included replacing old pages with new pages in aircraft maintenance manuals. (Def's 56.1 ¶ 10; Alicea Dep., at 43, 55-7.) Prior to December 6, 2001, Luttenbacher considered Plaintiff a "good employee." (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 24; Luttenbacher Dep., at 9.)

  A collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between Northwest and the International Association of Machinists ("Union") governed Plaintiff's employment. (Def's 56.1 ¶ 8; Alicea Dep., at 17-18.) Plaintiff was also subject to Northwest's Rules of Conduct For Employees of Northwest Airlines. (Def's 56.1 ¶ 15; Alicea Dep., at 27.) Among those rules was an absolute prohibition on the alteration or falsification of time cards and the submission of false information. (Def's 56.1 ¶ 16; Rules of Conduct for Employees of Northwest Airlines, Ex. F to Def's 56.1 (hereinafter, "Rules"), Rule No. 33.) The Rules state that falsification of records is a serious offense that justifies immediate discharge. (Def's 56.1 ¶ 17; Rules, General, at 2.)

  Soon after he took on his management duties, in May 2001, Dave Luttenbacher made an announcement in the maintenance managers' room in which he explained that all overtime work had to be approved by management. (Alicea Dep., at 76-78; Termination Letter from Luttenbacher to Alicea, dated December 11, 2001, Ex. E to Def's 56.1, hereinafter, "Termination Letter.") Alicea admits that she was present for this announcement, though she points out that Luttenbacher was not speaking directly to her, and was instead addressing a group of people. (Alicea Dep., at 77-78; Alicea Aff. ¶ 5.)

  Alicea was familiar with the overtime forms and had used them in the past. (Alicea Dep., at 102-106.) Luttenbacher stopped using those overtime forms, (Alicea Aff. ¶ 6; Pl's 56.1 ¶ 4; Luttenbacher Dep., at 22), in order to "save a tree" and instead, as he testified, relied directly on the employee's time sheet. (Luttenbacher Dep., at 22.) Luttenbacher did not explain what information in the employee's time sheet would indicate that overtime had been approved, but he testified that an employee's overtime work "would have shown up as time worked, but I would have known about it." (Id.)

  A. Events Leading to Alicea's Termination

  Due to the Labor Day Holiday in 2001, the payroll department requested that clerical staff submit payroll records early, by Sunday, September 2, 2001. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 18; Alicea Dep., at 79, 83.) Luttenbacher asked Alicea if she could do it all on Tuesday and avoid working overtime that Labor Day weekend and she responded that she could.*fn1 (Def's 56.1 ¶¶ 19, 20; Alicea Dep., at 85-86.)

  Alicea contends, however, that after learning that Luttenbacher's secretary was out on leave (Alicea does not say when she became aware of this), she realized that she could not complete the payroll without working overtime on Sunday, September 2. (Pl's 56.1 ¶ 5; Alicea Aff. at ¶ 7.) In her affidavit, Alicea asserted that the secretary's absence resulted in additional work for her, which in turn affected her ability to finish the payroll in a timely fashion. (Alicea Aff. ¶ 7.) Defendant denies these statements as inconsistent with Alicea's deposition testimony. (Defendant's Responses to Plaintiff's Statement of Uncontested Facts Pursuant to Rule 56.1 ¶ 5, hereinafter, "Def's Responses to 56.1.") The deposition transcript does not contain an explicit question regarding any additional duties brought on by the secretary's leave, but the court notes that Alicea testified at length about that weekend and did not mention the secretary's absence. (Alicea Dep., at 78-86.)

  Luttenbacher came into work that Sunday and asked Alicea why she was there. (Def's 56.1 ¶ 21; Alicea Dep., at 80; Termination Letter.) Alicea responded that she decided to do payroll but told Luttenbacher she would not put in the time to be paid for it. (Def's 56.1 ¶ 22; Alicea Dep., at 80-1.) Luttenbacher responded, "If you work, I will pay you for it," and then reminded Alicea that all extra hours needed to be approved by management. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 22; Alicea Dep., at 81.) Alicea worked the day, put in for the time, and was paid for it. (Alicea Dep., at 81.) She contends that John Kasper had authorized her to come in during the Labor Day weekend and complete the payroll, and that Kasper "knew I was there," Alicea Dep., at 79), but she admits she did not tell Luttenbacher that John Kasper had approved her weekend work.

  On December 6, 2001, Luttenbacher noticed certain discrepancies in Alicea's time entries and observed that she had made many entries manually, without management permission.*fn2 (Def. 56.1 ¶ 24; Luttenbacher Aff. ¶ 6.) First, for December 1, 2001, the time records showed that Alicea had made a manual entry showing that she worked from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. (four hours), with coding that indicated pay for eight hours. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 25-26; Alicea Dep., at 55, 57-8.) Alicea contends that manager John Kasper had approved her working that Saturday, December 1, 2001. (Alicea Dep., at 57, 59.) She also contends that coding herself for eight hours of pay was an acceptable past practice within Northwest. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 7; Alicea Dep., at 58-9.) Northwest denies this claim (Def's Responses to Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 7), noting that it contradicts Alicea's deposition, where she testified that the practice of paying employees for eight hours when ...


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