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Kuhn v. United Airlines

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

August 6, 2014


Page 797

For Christine Kuhn, Plaintiff: Spencer Freeman Smith, LEAD ATTORNEY, Smith Patten, San Francisco, CA; Denise M. Mercherson, Law Office of Denise M. Mercherson, Chicago, IL; Dow Wakefield Patten, None, Law Office Of Spencer Smith, San Francisco, CA.

For United Airlines, Defendant: Arthur James Rooney, Ashley Choren Workman, Seyfarth Shaw Llp, Chicago, IL.

Page 798


SARA L. ELLIS, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Christine Kuhn, an African American flight attendant for Defendant United Airlines (" United" ), filed suit alleging that United retaliated against her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (" ADEA" ), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. Kuhn claims that after she filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ) in 2007 in which she alleged retaliation for internal complaints of age, sex, and race discrimination, United failed to fully and impartially investigate subsequent complaints she made of co-worker mistreatment. Before the Court is United's motion for summary judgment. Because Kuhn did not suffer from an adverse employment action, and even if she had, she could not establish causation under the direct method or identify a similarly situated employee under the indirect method, United's motion [126] is granted.


Kuhn has been a flight attendant with United since August 1, 1974, having attained the rank of purser, or lead flight attendant, over ten years ago. Kuhn is currently based out of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. She has received the same base salary and benefits since 2007. By her own choice, she does not always serve as a purser on a flight, and thus her pay and certain perks that accompany being a purser vary depending on her role on each flight.

On April 23, 2007, Kuhn filed an EEOC charge against United, alleging retaliation based on internal complaints of age, sex, and race discrimination. United responded to the EEOC charge by submitting a position statement to the EEOC on May 25, 2007. Kuhn admits that she did not discuss her 2007 EEOC charge with anyone at United at the time. But certain individuals at United--Karen Kukla, Megan Detzner, Linda Glenn-Burroughs, Bob Jordan, Jennifer Coyne, Gail Korn, and Bill Thacker--were aware of the charge because they were involved in preparing United's response to the EEOC. Kuhn received a right to sue letter from the EEOC on January 31, 2008, but she did not file a lawsuit based on her 2007 EEOC charge.

On February 2, 2008, just two days after receiving the right to sue letter, Kuhn and another flight attendant, William Rosenblam, had a verbal altercation during a flight. According to Kuhn, on a flight from Hong Kong to Chicago, she asked Rosenblam to get a passenger a glass of water, to which Rosenblam responded " shut the fuck up" before getting the water. Kuhn then confronted Rosenblam by telling him to " shut up" and not use foul language with her again. Rosenblam claimed to have only said " shut up" but apologized later in the flight for any rude

Page 799

behavior. When they landed in Chicago, Kuhn nonetheless submitted a formal flight attendant report to her supervisor, Joe Mallia, to document Rosenblam's " lack of respect" and " uncalled for" use of " foul language," which she found " very offensive, rude, obnoxious and somewhat violent." Def.'s Tab C, Ex. 5. Although the flight attendant report does not state that Rosenblam treated Kuhn improperly because of her race or age, Kuhn testified that she told Mallia that Rosenblam treated her improperly because of her race before she wrote the report. After Kuhn made her report, Mallia spoke with Rosenblam, who denied using profanity. Mallia also contacted Rosenblam's supervisor, Linda Pellico, regarding the incident, and either Mallia or Pellico contacted United's Professional Standards department. Someone from that department also spoke with Rosenblam on two or three occasions. When Kuhn subsequently asked Mallia about the outcome of her report about Rosenblam, she was told that it was being handled. Kuhn has not flown with Rosenblam since the February 2, 2008 incident.

On July 19, 2009, Kuhn had another altercation with a different flight attendant, Michael Kimbel, while on a flight from Tokyo to Chicago. According to Kuhn, the two had issues working together on a previous flight, but their problems came to a head when Kimbel entered the galley where Kuhn was standing in front of the oven and forcefully pushed her against the oven. Kuhn told Kimbel that he could have made her aware that he was behind her, and Kimbel apologized. Kuhn filed an official report with her supervisor, Ron Clarke, claiming Kimbel's behavior constituted harassment and violence in the workplace. The report does not state that the harassment was based on race, age, or sex, and Kuhn did not complain along these lines to Clarke before writing her report. Nonetheless, she maintains that Kimbel treated her differently because of her race.

Upon receiving Kuhn's report, Clarke completed a Workplace Violence Incident Report, interviewed Kuhn and Kimbel separately, and asked them to complete written statements. Kimbel admitted to having bumped into Kuhn in the galley but claimed it was an accident. He stated that he apologized immediately. Kimbel also noted that Kuhn was extremely rude in response, calling him a " stupid fag." Def.'s Tab C, Ex. 9 at United00015. Kuhn also solicited statements from several other flight attendants who were on the same flight. After considering all the information he received, Clarke concluded that the contact between Kuhn and Kimbel was accidental. Kuhn has not worked with Kimbel since making her complaint.

On September 11, 2009, Kuhn had a third incident with two other flight attendants, Wai Le Bailey Tung and Tsz Kin Desmond Lam, on a flight from Chicago to Hong Kong. According to Kuhn, Tung and Lam committed a slowdown and work stoppage, which required Kuhn to work around them and perform extra work. Kuhn submitted a formal flight attendant report to Clarke, her supervisor at O'Hare, and Josephine Lau, a supervisor located in Hong Kong. The report did not complain about harassment or discrimination based on Kuhn's age, sex, or race. Lau investigated Kuhn's report. She collected statements from Tung and Lam, who both responded that they did not know the basis for Kuhn's allegations. Lau thus determined she could not come to a conclusion regarding Kuhn's complaint and the investigation came to an end.

The three supervisors to whom Kuhn reported her complaints, Clarke, Lau, and Mallia, were ...

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