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Thompson v. American Airlines

December 5, 2007

CATHY THOMPSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan H. Lefkow

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Cathy Thompson ("Thompson") brought suit against her former employer, defendant American Airlines, Inc. ("American"), claiming that she was discharged from employment in retaliation for having made reports about her work environment to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") and for having pursued her rights under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act. Presently before the court are (1) American's motion for summary judgment and (2) American's motion to strike the affidavit of Matthew Jones, which Thompson filed along with her response to American's motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, American's motion to strike the affidavit of Matthew Jones [#62] is granted, and defendant's motion for summary judgment [#47] is granted.

JURISDICTION

On January 26, 2006, Thompson filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, naming as defendants American Airlines, Inc., American Eagle Airlines, Inc., and AMR Corporation.*fn1 On March 7, 2006, the defendants filed a notice of removal with this court, alleging diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Whereas the plaintiff is a citizen of Illinois, each of the originally-named defendants is a Delaware Corporation with its principal place of business in Fort Worth, Texas, and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. The court thus has jurisdiction to hear this case based on diversity jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).

STANDARDS

Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). To determine whether any genuine issue of fact exists, the court must pierce the pleadings and assess the proof as presented in the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits that are part of the record. Fed R. Civ. P. 56(c) & advisory committee's notes. The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed. 2d 265 (1986). In response, the non-moving party cannot rest on mere pleadings alone but must use the evidentiary tools listed above to designate specific material facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324; Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000). A material fact is one which might affect the outcome of the suit. Insolia, 216 F.3d at 598--99. Although a bare contention that an issue of fact exists is insufficient to create a factual dispute, Bellaver v. Quanex Corp., 200 F.3d 485, 492 (7th Cir. 2000), the court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986). In the context of employment discrimination, "summary judgment is warranted where the evidence, interpreted favorably to the plaintiff, could not persuade a reasonable jury that the employer had discriminated against the plaintiff." Jones v. Union Pacific R.R. Co., 302 F.3d 735, 739--40 (7th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted).

BACKGROUND*fn2

Thompson worked for American Eagle Airlines, Inc. from 1991until she was transferred to American in 1996. From 1996 until her termination on December 23, 2004, Thompson worked for American, performing her duties at O'Hare International Airport. While with American, Thompson was first employed as a city ticket office agent, a position she held until 1998, at which time she became an airport agent, a position she held until her termination. From about 1999 until her termination, Thompson reported to Gary Baker ("Baker"), a customer service supervisor. As an airport agent, Thompson was responsible for various functions involving security, ticketing, check-in, and customer service. Her ticketing responsibilities included booking reservations, collecting fares, making changes due to weather or at the passenger's request, and rebooking or rescheduling passengers due to flight cancellations and overbookings.

While at work on December 19, 2002, Thompson struck her face against a shelf at the O'Hare ticket counter and broke her nose. Plaintiff contends that her employer should have known that the shelf, hinged and unsecured, presented unsafe work conditions. The next day, December 20, Thompson filed a report with OSHA about the unsafe work conditions. Shortly thereafter, OSHA sent American a letter notifying the company that OSHA had received a report of safety hazards. The letter stated that OSHA did not intend to investigate the safety hazards and instead instructed American to handle the investigation and make any necessary corrections or modifications to the work site. The letter did not identify Thompson as the individual who made the complaint. In January 2003, Thompson filed a workers' compensation claim with the Illinois Industrial Commission for her December 19, 2002 injury. Thompson received a settlement for her claim.

About two years later, on December 22, 2004, Lynn Mazzuchelli ("Mazzuchelli"), a customer service manager, advised Thompson that she was being withheld from employment and investigated for ticketing work she performed on certain dates in March through July of 2004. Also on December 22, Mazzuchelli questioned Thompson regarding six different sets of ticketing transactions.

In the first series of transactions, Thompson had refunded money to fifteen police officers, one of whom was Thompson's brother. Thompson's brother had initially given her a list of names and asked her to book airline tickets for group travel between July 23 and July 25, 2004. On March 15, 2004, Thompson booked the original trip at a rate of $178.20 per ticket. On June 26, 2004, Thompson "redid"*fn3 the tickets for the same travel dates but at a reduced rate of $98.20 per ticket, using a Fourth of July holiday fare discount code. American alleges that the Fourth of July holiday fare did not apply to the group's dates of travel, and that, in any case, it was improper to refund the money back to the individual's credit cards rather than issuing transportation vouchers. Thompson has admitted that the lower fare did not apply but maintains that she was not aware of that fact until December 22, 2004. Thompson further argues that she acted within American's guidelines when she credited the original form of payment rather than issuing transportation vouchers.

In the second series of transactions, on July 2, 2004,*fn4 Thompson booked tickets for members of "the Downes family" for travel between July 4 and July 7, 2004. Later, on October 20, 2004, Thompson reissued these tickets for travel dates in November, but used the same discount fare, which did not apply to travel dates in November. Thompson has admitted that she made an error in rebooking these tickets but denies that it cost American any revenue. Although Thompson's maiden name is Downes, she maintains that she is not related to any of the individuals for whom she booked tickets in this series of transactions.

In the third series of transactions, American alleges that on July 2, 2004, Thompson booked tickets for members of the Downes family for travel between July 4 and July 7, 2004, correctly using the holiday fare. According to American, on September 14, 2004, Thompson changed the dates of travel for two of the tickets to October and November, dates for which the holiday fare no longer applied, but failed to collect either the fare difference or the applicable fee for the ticketing change. Thompson admitted in her deposition that she erroneously applied the discount fare to the reissued tickets but maintains that she acted within her discretion when she waived the ticketing change fee.

In the fourth series of transactions, American alleges that Thompson changed the travel dates for two individuals but did not reprice the tickets ...


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