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Belcastro v. United Airlines, Inc.

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

April 19, 2018



          Andrea R. Wood United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Christopher Belcastro claims that he was unlawfully terminated from his position as a pilot for Defendant United Airlines, Inc. (“United”) because of his race and union activities. Now before the Court are Defendants United and James Simons's motion to transfer venue (Dkt. No. 13) and partial motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 16). For the reasons explained below, Defendants' motion to transfer is denied and the partial motion to dismiss is granted.


         Belcastro started working for United on April 7, 2015 as a new hire First Officer pilot. (Compl. ¶ 8, Dkt. No. 1.) Belcastro resides in Ohio and worked out of Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia during his employment with United. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 6, Ex. A). Pursuant to United policy and the United Pilot Agreement, Belcastro spent his first 12 months on probation-a period that was set to end on April 7, 2016. (Id.) Prior to and during Belcastro's employment, he was an active participant in the Air Line Pilots Association, International (“Association”), a union that represents more than 55, 000 professional airline pilots in the United States and Canada (Id. ¶ 9.) According to Belcastro, his affiliation with the Association was well known amongst United's management. (Id. ¶ 10.)

         In February 2016, Belcastro applied for a pilot vacancy in a 320 Airbus that flew out of Chicago's O'Hare Airport. (Id. ¶ 11.) He was awarded the position on or about March 7, 2016. (Id.) As a result, Belcastro's flights would start and end at O'Hare Airport. (Id.)

         Meanwhile, on March 2, 2016, United's crew-scheduling team attempted to contact Belcastro about a reserve flying assignment for which he was scheduled the following day. The crew left Belcastro two messages on his cell phone-one at 5:56 p.m. and the other at 9:45 p.m. (Id. ¶ 12.) The second message stated that the crew was calling to remind Belcastro of his March 3, 2016 assignment and asked him to call back. (Id.) The message also stated that if Belcastro did not call back, the crew-scheduling team would call again at midnight. (Id.) The crew did not call Belcastro back at midnight, however, and Belcastro never acknowledged the assignment. (Id.) Nonetheless, as he did receive the voice messages, Belcastro was prepared to fulfill the flying assignment. (Id.)

         On the morning of March 3, 2016, United's crew-scheduling department designated Belcastro as Unable to Contact (“UTC”) for the reserve-day flying assignment. (Id.) The UTC designation meant that Belcastro's pay would be docked. (Id. ¶ 13.) That same day, Flight Manager Jonathan Sawyer ordered Belcastro to appear before Chief Pilot James Simons on March 17, 2016 to discuss the UTC designation. (Id. ¶ 14.) Belcastro sought help from the Association regarding the issue, telling the union's representatives that he never received a post-midnight confirmation call from the crew-scheduling team. (Id. ¶ 15.) The Association asked a crew-scheduling representative to review the UTC designation and to remove it from Belcastro's file. A crew-scheduling supervisor agreed that the UTC designation was not justified under the circumstances and removed the notation from Belcastro's master file. (Id. ¶ 16.) Shortly afterwards, however, Simons instructed the director of labor relations to reinstate the UTC notation on Belcastro's record. (Id. ¶ 18.)

         On March 17, 2016, Belcastro, accompanied by an Association representative, appeared before Simons and Human Resources representative Donna Titmus. (Id. ¶ 20.) During that meeting, Simons told Belcastro that he would receive a Letter of Counsel as punishment for his UTC infraction. (Id. ¶ 20.) Belcastro and Simons met again on March 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. This time, however, Simons unexpectedly gave Belcastro a resignation letter. Simons told Belcastro that if he left the office without signing the letter, he would be terminated. (Id. ¶ 22.) Belcastro pleaded with Simons to give him a “last-chance agreement” instead of terminating him, but Simons responded by telling Belcastro that, “there are thousands of pilots who want the opportunity you had and will make sure they never miss a day of work. My Black friend who flies Air Force One would love to be a pilot at United, but, for some reason, hasn't gotten hired yet. Now, are you going to sign the resignation letter or are we going to go through the termination process?” Belcastro then signed the letter. (Id. ¶ 23.)

         Despite receiving a signed resignation letter, United coded the end of Belcastro's employment as a termination. (Id. ¶ 24.) Belcastro alleges that United published the false termination status to third parties, which has negatively affected his professional status. (Id. ¶¶ 28, 29.) Belcastro further claims that Simons, who is black, forced Belcastro to resign because he is white and participates in union activities. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 27.) According to Belcastro, similarly-situated white pilots whose employment status is controlled by white chief pilots have not been forced to resign. (Id. ¶ 26.) Additionally, Association representatives have told Belcastro that Simons “does not like the union.” (Id. ¶ 15.) For these reasons, Belcastro has filed the instant lawsuit against United and Simons alleging race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Count I); wrongful discharge in violation of the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 141, et seq. (Count II); violation of the Illinois Personnel Record Review Act, 820 ILCS 40/0.01 et seq. (Count III); defamation (Count IV); and tortious interference with employment (Count V).


         I. Motion to Transfer

         The Court first must address the question of venue. Defendants seek to transfer this case to the Eastern District of Virginia.

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), “[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought.” To prevail on their motion under § 1404(a), Defendants must show the following: “(1) venue is proper in this district; (2) venue [and jurisdiction are] proper in the transferee district; (3) the transferee district is more convenient for both the parties and witnesses; and (4) transfer would serve the interest of justice.” Annett Holdings v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyds, No. 08-cv-01106, 2008 WL 2415299, at *2 (N.D. Ill. June 12, 2008) (alteration in original) (quoting Gueorguiev v. Max Rave, LLC, 526 F.Supp.2d 853, 856 (N.D. Ill. 2007)). In ruling on a § 1404(a) motion, the Court considers the relevant factors “in light of all the circumstances of the case;” this analysis “necessarily involves a large degree of subtlety and latitude, ” including with respect to the relative weight to give to each of the factors. Coffey v. Van Dorn Iron Works, 796 F.2d 217, 219 (7th Cir. 1986). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating that a transfer is warranted. See Heller Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., 883 F.2d 1286, 1293 (7th Cir. 1989). Defendants have not satisfied their burden here.

         A. Venue in Transferor and Transferee Courts

         The venue analysis begins with the questions of whether venue would be proper in the transferor district and the transferee district. The parties here do not dispute that venue is proper in the Northern District of Illinois. Belcastro, however, maintains that venue is not appropriate in the Eastern District of Virginia.

         As the parties acknowledge, Section 5(f)(3) of Title VII is the exclusive venue provision for causes of action brought pursuant to that statute. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3); see alsoGraham v. Spireon, Inc., No. 14-cv-00131, 2014 WL 3714917, at *2 (N.D. Ill. July 25, 2014) (‚ÄúTitle VII contains its ...

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