United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
CHRISTOPHER N. BELCASTRO, Plaintiff,
UNITED AIRLINES, INC. and JAMES SIMONS, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
R. Wood United States District Judge.
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.
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.)
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
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
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.)
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.)
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).
Motion to Transfer
Court first must address the question of venue. Defendants
seek to transfer this case to the Eastern District of
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.
Venue in Transferor and Transferee Courts
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.
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) (“Title VII contains its ...