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Montgomery v. American Airlines

October 21, 2008

ANTHONY MONTGOMERY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC. DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Samuel Der-yeghiayan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the court on Defendant American Airlines, Inc.'s ("American Airlines") motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, we grant American Airlines' motion in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Anthony Montgomery ("Montgomery") alleges that he has been employed at American Airlines since December 1989. According to Montgomery, he initially worked for American Airlines as a Fleet Service Clerk and in October 2006, Montgomery obtained a transfer to American Airlines' Automotive Shop ("Auto Shop"), which was a significantly higher paying position that required advanced skill and training. Montgomery alleges that of the 73 mechanics working in the Auto Shop, Montgomery was one of only three African-Americans and that he was the only African-American employee who worked on the shop floor. Montgomery alleges that beginning with his transfer to the Auto Shop, his co-workers engaged in constant racial harassment and discrimination in an effort to remove him from the Auto Shop. Montgomery claims that his co-workers referred to him using racial slurs, refused to work with him on collaborative assignments, made derogatory comments toward him, and carried out other acts meant to mock, harass, and belittle Montgomery.

Montgomery further alleges that American Airlines discriminated against him on the basis of his race by failing to provide him with the resources, opportunities, and training that were provided to other similarly situated employees. When Montgomery began working in the Auto Shop, he was allegedly placed on a six month probationary period, after which he would be required to pass an examination in the Auto Shop ("Exam"). Montgomery alleges that unlike other probationary mechanics who were transferred among the Auto Shop's many departments to gain experience, American Airlines refused to train him in certain types of tasks. According to Montgomery, more experienced co-workers refused to provide Montgomery with any guidance on his assignments. Montgomery alleges that he made several complaints to his supervisors about his disparate treatment, but these complaints were never redressed.

At the completion of the six month probationary period, Montgomery alleges that he was fully prepared to take the Exam despite his co-workers' and supervisors' efforts to ensure that he would fail. According to Montgomery, the American Airlines employee conducting the test deliberately sought to make Montgomery fail by refusing to give him the quantifiable written portion of the Exam and subjecting Montgomery to exceedingly difficult questions and tasks on his oral and hands-on portions of the Exam. Montgomery claims that he successfully completed every portion of the Exam and that each time he correctly answered a question the employee administering the test exhibited anger. Montgomery alleges that the supervisor asked Montgomery to identify the part number for a mechanical part that Montgomery claims does not exist. Montgomery claims that after he failed to identify the one part, the supervisor informed him that he failed the Exam, despite having missed only one question. Montgomery alleges that other mechanics, who are not African-Americans, passed the same Exam despite missing substantially more than one question. Montgomery claims that other mechanics who were not African-Americans were able to progress out of the probationary period without even completing the Exam.

Montgomery alleges that after the Exam he was demoted from the Auto Shop to his former position as a Fleet Service Clerk. Subsequent to his demotion, Montgomery allegedly complained to the Human Resources Representative at American Airlines who Montgomery alleges covered up the incidents rather than investigating them.

Montgomery brought the instant action and includes in the complaint a claim alleging racial harassment and hostile work environment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981") (Count I), a claim alleging racial harassment and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Count II), a claim alleging race discrimination in violation of Section 1981 (Count III), and a claim alleging race discrimination in violation of Title VII (Count IV). American Airlines now moves for summary judgment on all claims.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, reveals that 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). In seeking a grant of summary judgment, the moving party must identify "those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)(quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). This initial burden may be satisfied by presenting specific evidence on a particular issue or by pointing out "an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Id. at 325. Once the movant has met this burden, the non-moving party cannot simply rest on the allegations in the pleadings, but, "by affidavits or as otherwise provided for in [Rule 56], must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). A "genuine issue" in the context of a motion for summary judgment is not simply a "metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Insolia v. Philip Morris, Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 599 (7th Cir. 2000). The court must consider the record as a whole, in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences that favor the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Bay v. Cassens Transport Co., 212 F.3d 969, 972 (7th Cir. 2000).

DISCUSSION

As an initial matter, we note that hostile work environment and race discrimination claims brought under Section 1981 are evaluated "under the same rubric as Title VII claims" and thus do not need to be addressed separately. Herron v. Daimler Chrysler Corp., 388 F.3d 293, 299 (7th Cir. 2004); see also Sublett v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 463 F.3d 731, 736 (7th Cir. 2006)(stating that "'[a]lthough section 1981 and Title VII differ in the types of discrimination they proscribe, the methods of proof and elements of the case are essentially identical'")(quoting Johnson v. City of Fort Wayne, Ind., 91 F.3d 922, 940 (7th Cir. 1996)). Therefore, we will consider Montgomery's Section 1981 and Title VII hostile work environment claims (Counts I and II) under the same analysis and we will consider Montgomery's Section 1981 and Title VII race discrimination claims (Counts III and IV) under the same analysis.

I. Hostile Work Environment Claims (Counts I and II)

American Airlines moves for summary judgment on Montgomery's hostile work environment claims, arguing that based on the evidence in the record, there is no genuine issue of material fact and that American Airlines is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The Seventh Circuit has set forth four factors that a plaintiff must show in order to succeed on a hostile work environment claim: "'(1) he was subject to unwelcome harassment; (2) the harassment was based on his race; (3) the harassment unreasonably interfered with his work performance by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment that seriously affected his psychological well-being; and (4) there is a basis for employer liability.'" Herron, 388 F.3d at 302 (quoting Hrobowski v. Worthington Steel Co., 358 F.3d 473, 476 (7th Cir. 2004)).

Montgomery has stated in his deposition that he was subjected to harassment by his fellow employees throughout the time that he worked in the Auto Shop. (SAF Par. 100, 104, 106-07). American Airlines disputes many of the facts submitted by Montgomery regarding his allegations of harassment, arguing that the only evidence submitted by Montgomery to support such facts consists of his own self-serving deposition testimony. We note, however, that the Seventh Circuit has found that a party's own self-serving deposition can create a genuine issue of material fact in order to defeat summary judgment. See Paz v. Wauconda Healthcare & Rehab. Ctr., LLC, 464 F.3d 659, 664(7th Cir. 2006)(stating that "[w]e have long held that a plaintiff may defeat summary judgment with his or her own deposition"); Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 773 (7th Cir. 2003). It is not appropriate for this court at the summary judgment stage to make "'credibility determinations, weigh the evidence, or decide which inferences to draw from the facts; these are jobs for a factfinder."' Paz, 464 F.3d at 664 (quoting Payne, 337 F.3d at 770). Thus, Montgomery's deposition testimony is sufficient to raise issues of fact and, at the summary judgment stage, this court must consider the record as a whole in a light most favorable to Montgomery and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of Montgomery. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Nevertheless, American Airlines argues that even if the court accepted Montgomery's allegations as true, American Airlines would still be entitled to summary judgment since: (1) Montgomery failed to properly report the majority of the alleged harassment to his superiors, (2) the alleged harassment was not severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile working environment, and (3) the alleged harassment was not based on Montgomery's race.

A. Evidence of Harassment

Montgomery states that throughout his time working in the Auto Shop he was subjected to "hate-related language and derogatory statements about being an African-American." (SAF Par. 100). Montgomery has submitted evidence, largely in the form of his own deposition testimony, detailing incidents of racial harassment. Specifically, Montgomery testified in his deposition that on one occasion, while he was clocking out from work he heard one of the other employees refer to him using a racial slur. (SAF Par. 100). Although Montgomery testified that this was the only time in which he was aware that such a racial slur was directed at him, he also testified that his co-workers often used racial slurs in his presence, particularly in the employee locker room. (Montgomery Dep. 504-05). Montgomery testified that other employees also used the word "they" in a derogatory fashion, referring to Montgomery's race, and criticized his skills because of his race. (Montgomery Dep. 504-05). Montgomery also testified that one of his co-workers remarked to Montgomery that "he could not see [Montgomery] until [Montgomery] smiled." (SAF Par. 102). Montgomery testified that other employees refused to ride in trucks with him or assist him with his work because of his race. (SAF Par. 104). According to Montgomery, in March 2007, someone who worked in the Auto Shop smashed a dark, rotten banana on Montgomery's toolbox. (SAF Par. 107). Montgomery also testified that one of the crew chiefs in the Auto Shop, Frank Dlugopolski ("Dlugopolski"), made racial remarks around Montgomery, including the statement that "all blacks are alike because they are from the ghetto or hood." (SAF Par. 104). Also, according to Montgomery, Dlugopolski stated in response to a complaint by Montgomery about his treatment, that "brothers are always complaining." (SAF Par. 104). Finally, Montgomery testified that his fellow employees sprayed chemicals on his food and placed a 30 to 40 pound rotor on his toolbox which dripped oil into his tools. (SAF Par. 106-107).

B. Issues of Fact Relating to Harassment Based on Race

The first two prongs of the hostile work environment standard require a plaintiff to show that he was subject to unwelcome harassment and that harassment was based on race. Herron, 388 F.3d at 302. American Airlines argues that Montgomery's evidence of racial harassment consists only of his self-serving deposition testimony and American Airlines has presented its own evidence from other employees contradicting Montgomery's statements, including the testimony of an American Airlines Human Resources representative who conducted an investigation into Montgomery's allegations and determined that no such harassment occurred. (RSAF Par. 107). However, as stated above, self-serving testimony is sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact. Paz, 464 F.3d at 664. Taking the evidence presented in a light most favorable to Montgomery, an issue of fact does remain as to whether Montgomery was subject to unwelcome harassment and whether that harassment was based on his race.

C. Hostile Work Environment

The third prong of the hostile work environment standard requires the plaintiff to show that "'the harassment unreasonably interfered with his work performance by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment that seriously affected his psychological well-being.'" Herron, 388 F.3d at 302 (quoting Hrobowski, 358 F.3d at 476). According to the Seventh Circuit, a hostile work environment must be "'so severe or pervasive as to alter the conditions of employment and create an abusive working environment.'" Rhodes v. Ill. Dep't. of Transp., 359 F.3d 498, 506 (7th Cir. 2004)(quoting Hilt-Dyson v. City of Chicago, 282 F.3d 456, 462-63 (7th Cir. 2002)). The environment must be "both subjectively and objectively offensive." Herron, 388 F.3d at 302. The court must consider "the totality of the circumstances, including the frequency ...


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