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YONEHARA v. AMERICAN AIRLINES

September 30, 2004.

AKIYOSHI YONEHARA, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DAVID COAR, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Akiyoshi Yonehara ("Yonehara" or "Plaintiff") has brought a claim against American Airlines, Inc. ("American" or "Defendant"), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 20003 et seq., alleging Defendant discriminated against him based upon his race (Asian), national origin (Japanese), and sex (male). In addition, Yonehara alleges Defendant violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and race discrimination pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981") Before this Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment on all counts of Plaintiffs' complaint. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is DENIED.

FACTS*fn1

  A. Yonehara is Hired by American

  Yonehara is an Asian male of Japanese national origin, who was 63 years old at the time his complaint was filed. On November 2, 1998, Yonehara was hired by American as a Pacific Sales Specialist, Level 4 Sales Manager, in American's Chicago Passenger Sales office in Rosemont, Illinois. Thomas Aichele ("Aichele") American's Managing Director of Chicago Sales, communicated the offer of employment to Yonehara. Aichele felt that Yonehara was a very personable individual who appeared able to build relationships, had past sales experience, and an understanding of the Asia-Pacific part of the world, specifically, the Japanese language and culture. Plaintiff's compensation for his employment with American included an annual salary of $45,000. In addition, when he was hired by American, Yonehara was given $1,000 for miscellaneous expenses associated with his relocation to Chicago from New York. At the time of his hire, Yonehara reported directly to Aichele, who expressed his intent for Yonehara to be successful with American.*fn2 Additionally, Yonehara reported indirectly to Anthony Marra, and subsequently, Paul Obermueller ("Obermueller")*fn3

  B. Yonehara's Job Responsibilities as Pacific Sales Specialist

  The Pacific Sales Specialist's job description states that the employee: (1) is responsible for Japanese ethnic agencies and corporate accounts in the designated area; (2) provides indirect support for area sales managers to secures commitment for Japan and Asia revenue and market share; (3) analyzes sales as they relate to Japan and Asia market opportunities for agency and corporate accounts; (4) develops strategic plans in conjunction with Pacific Regional Sales Managers and Headquarter Pacific Sales Specialist to capitalize on opportunities; (5) has active involvement with key organizations that foster marketing and visibility in the Japanese American business community as well as cultural, charitable and philanthropic organizations which have a strong focus on the Japanese and Asian local population. Other requirements included: (1) previous work experience in international sales and marketing with a thorough understanding of Japanese and other Asian cultures; (2) Japanese language skills (highly preferred); (3) travel; (4) excellent selling, listening, communication and presentation skills; (5) knowledge of RMDS, SABRE, IRIS, PADRE and PC skills (highly desirable); (6) a degree or equivalent experience.

  A significant portion of Yonehara's responsibilities as the Chicago Pacific Sales Specialist included marketing the Chicago/Tokyo flight to ethnic Japanese travel agencies and corporate accounts. In addition, Yonehara was expected to be actively involved with organizations that fostered networking with the Japanese business community and to participate in cultural, charitable and philanthropic organizations that focused on the Japanese population in Chicago. All Pacific Sales Specialists were also required to participate in weekly meetings. Further, all Pacific Sales Specialists were required to participate in quarterly meetings and to give a presentation that reviewed the current performance trends in their territories. In addition, as a Chicago Pacific Sales Specialist, Yonehara was initially responsible for promoting the Chicago-Narita flight in a territory that included not only the Chicago area, but the entire Central Division, which required him to travel out of state on a regular basis. None of the other Level 3 or 4 sales managers in Chicago Passenger Sales had responsibilities for the Central Division that necessitated regular out of state travel. Approximately a year and a half into Yonehara's tenure with American, he complained about his excessive workload.*fn4 Plaintiff's supervisors modified his territory so that his responsibilities were limited to the Chicago, and extensive travel was no longer required.

  In approximately September 1999, Josie Tuzzolino ("Tuzzolino") became a District Sales Manager for Chicago Passenger Sales.*fn5 Tuzzolino began working for American in 1989. She had held numerous sales positions with the company, including Passenger Sales Team Leader, Area Sales Manager and Manager Sales Support. In October 1999, Yonehara began reporting directly to Tuzzolino.

  B. American's Issues With Yonehara's Performance

  Defendants cite numerous aspects of Yonehara's performance that it feels were deficient, and eventually led to his discharge when American engaged in a reduction in force ("RIF") on September 28, 2001. One of the first evaluation's of Yonehara's job performance after Tuzzolino became his supervisor occurred in January 21, 2000. However, because Tuzzolino was only recently assigned as Yonehara's supervisor, the evaluation was conducted by Aichele. The review stated Yonehara's development needs included: (1) understanding details of American's programs; (2) reporting on local marketplace competition; (3) using available technology; and (4) developing good communication and relationships with headquarters and the Pacific Sales Team. Plaintiff was also told that he needed continued development in his oral communication skills (tone), teamwork, technical skills, quantitative/financial skills, flexibility and leadership.*fn6

  In September 2000, Yonehara was required to make a Pacific Territory quarterly review presentation. Aichele contends that he needed additional information from Yonehara because some of the items presented were generic, and some issues were not addressed that should have been. In addition, Aichele was not in complete concurrence with Yonehara's answers and explanations to his questions about the September 2000 Pacific Territory quarterly review.

  Generally, Plaintiff's supervisors at American believed that Yonehara's performance was substandard. However, American contends that they constantly attempted to train, coach and counsel Yonehara to be successful, but Yonehara was never able to gain the skills to perform his job competently. American contends that part of Yonehara's job was to bridge cultural differences in the marketplace. American states that Yonehara could identify differences, but did not identify solutions to bridge those differences in order to bring business to the company. American also asserts that Yonehara was unable to properly use travel authorization certificate technology, and had to ask others to do that work for him. Defendant also maintains that Yonehara repeatedly had problems communicating with his coworkers, and did not interact with other Pacific Sales Specialist at meetings. In joint sales calls, Obermueller observed that Yonehara was not familiar with American's programs. Obermueller also received information from others that Plaintiff had communication problems. Based on his observations, Obermueller felt that Yonehara's quarterly Pacific Territory presentations were poor and substandard, and he informed Tuzzolino of his dissatisfaction with Yonehara's performance. Defendant also maintains that Yonehara did not have a working knowledge of the data programs, such as SmAArts and DataNet (tools in which Plaintiff could measure performance within an individual account), and he often needed retraining to understand the reports and contracts. Defendants also contend that Yonehara had difficulty getting his agencies to renew or resign programs. American contends that Yonehara could not explain to his accounts why American would require them to improve performance before they would receive a payment or earn money on the program.

  C. Yonehara's 2000 Performance Review

  One of the key incidents that American cites in support of its motion for summary judgment is Yonehara's 2000 performance review, and the lack of improvement in Yonenhara's performance, subsequent to that review. Yonehara's 2000 performance review occurred on November 22, 2000. Although Tuzzolino was the person who completed the evaluation, she reviewed in the information with Aichele, and shared the information with Obermueller. Yonehara was ranked "Excellent" in two categories, "Strong" in four categories, "Adequate" in 23 categories, and "Developmental Needs" in nine categories. Tuzzoliono cited developmental needs in the following areas: (1) takes responsibility for work and resources; (2) accounts for the impact of strengths and weaknesses on their work; (2) open and approachable; (3) expresses self clearly when speaking; (4) delivers convincing message; (5) attentively listens to others; (6) collaborates with others to get best results; (7) excels in required job skills and knowledge; and (8) understands how job relates to others.

  On the evaluation, the employee was also required to rate their own job performance as part of a "self-evaluation." Yonehara's self-evaluation was very different from Tuzzolino's evaluation. On his self-evaluation, Yonehara felt that he was "Excellent" in ten categories, "Strong" in 19 categories, "Adequate" in seven categories, "Developmental Needs" in one category and "Not Observed" in 1 category. Yonehara felt that the one area where he had developmental needs was in excelling in the required job skills and knowledge.*fn7

  Clearly, Yonehara disagreed with Tuzzolino's performance evaluation. Yonehara provided Tuzzolino with a written response to the evaluation. In a memorandum to Tuzzolino dated November 26, 2000, Yonehara specifically disputed and responded to Tuzzolino's negative comments in the performance evaluation, including Tuzzolino's assertions that he did not understand Defendant's programs, failed to identify and forward competitive information, failed to communicate with Pacific Sales peers, failed to understand the objectives of a sales manger, failed to meet deadlines, failed to use resources in other departments, failed to accept departmental goals, processes and procedures, did not communicate effectively, did not perform well at quarterly Pacific Sales meetings and did not understand his job and the available technology. On December 13, 2000, Tuzzolino conducted a follow-up meeting with Plaintiff. Tuzzolino reported the discussion to Aichele. In addition, she prepared a written summary of her response to each issue Yonehara disputed in his performance evaluation. Because Yonehara did not agree with Tuzzolino's assessment of his performance, he did not sign the evaluation. D. American Takes Steps to Improve Yonehara's Performance

  After Yonehara's evaluation, American concluded that it needed to take certain steps to help Yonehara focus on his job functions. For example, in order to help him improve his job performance, American contends, Yonehara continued to report to Tuzzolino, even after Melissa Parker ("Parker") replaced Tuzzolino as the Chicago Passenger District Sales Manager in January 2001. On January 8, 2001, Yonehara prepared a written "Commitment," which he submitted to Tuzzolino on January 8, 2001; other employees reporting to Tuzzolino or Parker were not required to submit a Commitment form. Tuzzolino, however, was pleased with Yonehara's written "Comitment" and felt that it showed that Yonehara was serious about his work at American.

  In addition, American took certain substantive steps to attempt to help Yonehara improve his performance. American has an internal program called "Peak Performance Through Commitment," which is a step process of advisories to an employee which may culminate in a career decision day, or termination. American contends that Yonehara was not put through the Peak Performance Through Commitment Program because the goal was to assist him in further developing his skills and improve his performance in his industry (Yonehara refutes this contention). Instead, in a follow-up to the 2000 evaluation, Yonehara was required to prepare a formal business plan, in order to enable him to help him focus on his job functions and "help him work smarter." Yonehara was the only employee formerly under Tuzzolino's supervision, that was required to submit a business plan. Yonehara submitted his business plan on March 9, 2001, and on March 19, 2001, also executed a memorandum regarding the business plan and his future performance. In response to the business plan, Tuzzolino sent Yonehara an memo, which stated: Thank you for providing me the extensive 2001 Business Plan that I've requested. This information supplies me with the very specific steps you plan to take throughout 2001 with each customer base (corporate agency, internal HDQ Pacific Sales). By implementing the steps you've provided and clearly keeping your focus to better understand your job responsibilities, you should be able to move the dial, in your territory performance, in a favorable direction.

 
Chicago is a very competitive marketplace with many carrier options. When the role of the Pacific Specialist was created in the Central Division, you were provided clear expectations to assist in gaining incremental revenue and share from our biggest customers.
Over the last two years, not only has there been a decrease in AA revenue and share with the majority of your territory, to my knowledge you have not been as visible within your territory creating plans to beat OA carriers as you should be.
It is evident that you've been clearly thinking through the process of how to work more effectively within your territory. By creating a strategic business plan, you should be able to make a significant impact within your account base through sharing numbers and implementing programs with your customers to improve AA share. This will enhance your relationship while showing your value within the marketplace.
Melissa Parker and I will be reviewing this plan with you after 60 days to discuss your progress. At that time I would like you to bring in any specific paperwork that provides us the needed documentation to ensure you are following your plan. I would also expect to see share/revenue numbers for your top accounts on a month over month basis. I realized there will not be a significant shift in share, however, the dial should begin moving in a favorable direction. If after 60 days no progress is made, Melissa and/or will be speaking with you to discuss other interests or opportunities within American Airlines.
  Eventually, in March or April 2001, Yonehara began reporting to Parker. On May 31, 2001, Parker reviewed Yonehara's progress. Parker was not pleased with Yonehara's progress under the Business Plan, and did not feel as if he properly executed the steps within the plan. Parker felt that Yonehara: (1) failed to supply data that met the requirements of his business plan; (2) took no action to improve quantitative performance; (3) did not improve share with his Top 7 agency producers; (4) lacked understanding of his role or the objectives of his job description; (5) ignored prior coaching and counseling on how to use American resources available to him; (6) refused to use the assistance of the Pacific Corporate Specialist to secure new opportunities; (7) did not understand the principles of CCBS [creating competitive business solutions]; (8) struggled with technical skills; (9) failed to use a DataNet report in his top accounts, even though he had been previously trained; (10) contacted a competitor to obtain information that was readily available from American; and (11) could not provide information critical to the success of his market.

  Finally, Parker observed Yonehara on a joint sales calls on September 8 and 9, 2001. She noted that during the call, Yonehara had no specific discussion topics or performance reviews for the client. In her view, Yonehara used the joint calls to provide agencies the opportunity to request specific programs that had been previously denied by Obermueller. According to Parker, Yonehara made no response to his customers' requests, remained silent, and waited ...


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