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Escobar v. Aircraft Service International, Inc.

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

August 12, 2019




         For the reasons explained below, defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted.


         Plaintiff, Julio Escobar, brought this action for national-origin and age discrimination against his former employer, Aircraft Service International Group, Inc. (“ASIG”), asserting violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.; and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Escobar also sues his union, District Lodge 142, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO (the “Union”) for breach of the duty of fair representation.


         The facts are largely undisputed.[1] On March 4, 2013, ASIG, an aviation-services company, hired Escobar as a ramp agent at its Chicago O'Hare International Airport location. Escobar joined the Union and remained a member in good standing throughout his employment with ASIG. The terms and conditions of Escobar's employment were set forth in collective bargaining agreements (“CBAs”) between ASIG and the Union. The first CBA was effective from January 2012 to January 2016, and in February 2014, Escobar signed an acknowledgment that he had received a copy of it. The second CBA was effective from January 2016 to January 2019. The two CBAs were substantially the same with respect to the grievance and arbitration process, the right of ASIG to discharge for just cause, and the grounds for discipline and termination described therein.

         In September 2013, Escobar moved from his original position to the position of Ground Service Equipment (“GSE”) mechanic. His job duties included maintaining and repairing automotive and mechanical equipment used for aircraft fueling and related operations. ASIG's GSE mechanics work in three shifts: the first/morning shift, from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.; the second/afternoon shift, which was Escobar's regular shift, from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.; and the third/night shift, from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. On occasion, when ASIG is shorthanded or when airline schedules require additional assistance, GSE mechanics are required to work more than one shift in succession.

         On January 13 and 14, 2017, ASIG assigned Escobar to work the second and third shifts. At about 2:00 a.m. on January 14, Escobar took a meal break inside an ASIG vehicle, which he parked in a parking lot that was not owned by ASIG. Escobar testified at his deposition that he took the truck “far away” from ASIG's property so that people would not bother him, because he needed a “[n]ice little rest” that night. (ECF No. 85-5, Dep. of Julio Escobar 184.) During the break, Escobar sat in the driver's seat with his head back and his eyes closed. At some point, a coworker, Angel Lazarini, approached the vehicle, and Escobar woke up when Lazarini knocked on the window.[2] When Escobar opened his eyes, he saw that Lazarini was standing close to the window, holding up a cell phone with its light on. He appeared to be taking a video of Escobar. Lazarini laughed and quickly walked away from the vehicle.[3]

         Later that day, Lazarini submitted the video he recorded, which is about one minute and five seconds long and depicts Escobar sleeping in the driver's seat of an ASIG vehicle during working hours, [4] to ASIG management. Michael Burke, the GSE Manager, and Judy Matthys, a Human Resources Specialist, viewed the video. Matthys and Burke jointly determined that the video clearly depicted Escobar asleep in an ASIG vehicle during working hours. Based on this determination and the fact that the CBA states that sleeping during working hours is a “Group III” violation of ASIG rules (meaning that the violation would result in immediate discharge except in cases involving “unusual circumstances”), Matthys and Burke decided to terminate Escobar's employment.

         On January 25, 2017, Escobar and a Union shop steward, Edward Dahlin, were summoned to a meeting with Matthys and Burke, during which Escobar was notified that his employment was being terminated for his having slept during working hours in violation of the CBA's prohibition on such conduct. ASIG provided a written termination notice to that effect. Matthys showed Lazarini's video to Escobar and Dahlin. Escobar did not dispute that the video depicted him sleeping during working hours in an ASIG truck, nor did he express any belief that ASIG's termination decision was based on his age or national origin or otherwise discriminatory.

         On January 26, 2017, Dahlin filed a grievance on Escobar's behalf pursuant to the terms of the CBA, contesting the termination. The grievance stated that Escobar said that he was “forced” to work a second shift; he was sick; a supervisor said that he could go to lunch; he was “resting[, ] not sleeping”; and he wanted his job back. (ECF No. 51-1, Defs.' J.A., Ex. Q.) The grievance did not include any complaint of unlawful discrimination or harassment. After a hearing at which the Union represented Escobar, ASIG denied the grievance on February 1, 2017. Thereafter, the grievance was handled by John Coveny, the General Chairperson of the Union's District Lodge 142, who pursued further steps in the grievance process. ASIG did not change its position, and ultimately upheld the termination. The next step of the contractual grievance process would be arbitration, but, after Coveny consulted District Lodge 142's President, David Supplee, about the matter, Coveny determined that there was no chance of prevailing at arbitration and declined to pursue a further appeal. On November 2, 2017, the Union sent Escobar a letter notifying him that after a thorough review of the facts and circumstances of the matter as well as decisions in similar cases, it would not further appeal the termination.

         On March 20, 2017, Escobar filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) alleging that the Union had violated the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) by “refusing to process” the grievance regarding his termination “for arbitrary or discriminatory reasons or in bad faith.” (Defs.' J.A., Ex. Z.) On March 23, 2017, Escobar filed charges of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (“IDHR”) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), alleging that ASIG had discriminated against him on the basis of his national origin and age. On the same day, Escobar also filed IDHR and EEOC charges against the Union, alleging that it had denied him representation on the basis of his national origin and age. On May 5, 2017, the NLRB dismissed Escobar's charge against the Union, stating that ASIG was exempt from NLRA coverage.

         On May 31, 2017, Escobar filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois. He was represented by counsel, William Teitelbaum. Schedule A/B of Escobar's petition, titled “Property, ” required Escobar to state whether he had “[c]laims against third parties, whether or not you have filed a lawsuit or made a demand for payment.” (Defs.' J.A., Ex. CC.) Escobar marked “No.” (Id.) On August 24, 2017, Escobar amended his Schedule A/B to answer this question in the affirmative, stating that “[o]n March 23, 2017, Debtor filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC and IL Dept of Human Rights against IAMAW District Lodge 142. The charge of discrimination is pending.” (Defs.' J.A., Ex. DD.) He did not, however, identify the pending claim against ASIG. Escobar again amended his Schedule A/B on September 5, 2017 to add another claim to his answer to this question, concerning a cause of action he believed he had against witnesses in a case against him that had been dismissed. (Defs.' J.A., Ex. EE.) He still did not identify the claim against ASIG. On September 7, 2017, a discharge order was entered in Escobar's bankruptcy case; at the time of the discharge, his schedules did not include his pending claim against ASIG. To date, Escobar has not moved to reopen his bankruptcy case to correct the nondisclosure or otherwise sought to amend his schedules to include the claim against ASIG.

         On December 28, 2017, the EEOC and IDHR issued Escobar notices of dismissal and the right to sue on his charges against the Union and ASIG. He filed the instant action on March 29, 2018. Escobar alleges that ASIG discriminated against him on the basis of national origin and age when it assigned him more overtime than other employees, required him to complete other employees' assignments, subjected him to a hostile work environment, and terminated his employment. He alleges that the Union discriminated against him on the basis of ...

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