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Francis v. United Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

August 21, 2014

ANA M. FRANCIS, an individual, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED AIRLINES, INC., a Delaware corporation, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

RAYMOND P. MOORE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Ana Francis ("Plaintiff" or "Francis") brings claims against her former employer, Defendant United Airlines ("Defendant" or "United"), for discrimination and outrageous conduct. Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (the "Motion"). (ECF No. 64.) For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is granted.

I. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Henderson v. Inter-Chem Coal Co., Inc., 41 F.3d 567, 569 (10th Cir. 1994). Whether there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact depends upon whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or, conversely, is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986); Stone v. Autoliv ASP, Inc., 210 F.3d 1132 (10th Cir. 2000); Carey v. U.S. Postal Service, 812 F.2d 621, 623 (10th Cir. 1987). Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986).

A fact is "material" if it pertains to an element of a claim or defense; a factual dispute is "genuine" if the evidence is so contradictory that if the matter went to trial, a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The Court must resolve factual ambiguities against the moving party, thus favoring the right to a trial. Quaker State Mini-Lube, Inc. v. Fireman's Fund Ins. Co., 52 F.3d 1522, 1527 (10th Cir. 1995); Houston v. Nat'l General Ins. Co., 817 F.2d 83, 85 (10th Cir. 1987).

II. BACKGROUND

The relevant facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, are as follows. Plaintiff is a black and Hispanic female who was born in 1955. (ECF No. 5 at 7; ECF No. 51 at 1.) She was employed by United as a flight attendant beginning on May 16, 1995, and ending July 5, 2011, when she was discharged. (ECF No. 5 at 7.) According to the Amended Complaint, the stated reason for Plaintiff's termination was for "not protecting company resources and supplies, misappropriate use of supplies and resources, and lack of honesty." ( Id. ) Plaintiff contends that "she was discriminated against based upon her race, national origin and age because other younger, white, and non-Hispanic employees have engaged in similar conduct without any discipline or repercussions." ( Id. )

On June 6, 2011, Plaintiff was assigned as a standby flight attendant at Denver International Airport from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. ( Id. ) She checked in at the coordinator desk around 5:45 p.m., and then went to the "in-flight area" located on the fourth floor of Concourse B. (Francis Dep, ECF No. 64-1 at 5-6.) While on duty, Plaintiff became nauseous, dizzy and disoriented, and tried to find the supervisor on duty, but could not. (ECF No. 5 at 7.) She left the in-flight area, intending to go to Starbucks to purchase a bottle of water, and on the way, passed one restaurant called "It's a Wrap, " which "appeared to be closing, " so she did not stop there. (ECF No. 69 at 2.) "While Francis was aware that there were 50 to a 100 [sic] restaurants on concourse B, those restaurants were on the rotunda in the opposite direction Francis was going. Francis' intention was to go to Starbucks because she had a gift card for purchases." ( Id. )

Plaintiff at some point says she approached her coordinator to purchase a bottle of water, and was told that United no longer sold bottles of water to employees. (ECF No. 51 at 1.) "Plaintiff then proceeded to Concourse B and found that most of the retailers were closed." ( Id. ) Plaintiff "never made it to Starbucks" according to her deposition because she "was feeling very weak." (ECF No. 64-1 at 13.) She noticed passengers deplaning a United flight at Gate B45. ( Id. at 14.)

Plaintiff asked the First Flight Attendant on that flight, an incoming flight from Tampa, Carol Alexander, if she could have some water to take medication, and the Ms. Alexander suggested that Plaintiff wait until the passengers had de-planed to get it. ( Id. at 1-2.) "Plaintiff proceeded into the cabin and took a bottle of water [... ] Plaintiff also took a salad and sandwich that appeared to have been discarded by a passenger." ( Id. at 2.) As a result of this incident, on June 7, 2014, Plaintiff was placed on administrative leave. ( Id. ) She was formally terminated on July 5, 2011. ( Id. )

United submitted as an exhibit an approximately eleven minute video that was taken from a fixed point just outside a United aircraft, in which Plaintiff may be observed waiting on the jetbridge for the passengers to deplane. (ECF No. 64-2.) After all the passengers and the flight crew deplane, Plaintiff can be seen entering the aircraft, then disappearing from view down the aisle. ( Id. ) She reappears shortly thereafter with something consistent in shape with plastic containers containing food sold on aircrafts wrapped in her sweater. ( Id. ) She then appears to take a bottle of water from a cabinet. ( Id. ) The video also shows, as Plaintiff emphasizes, a white pilot exiting the aircraft with a bottle of water. (ECF No. 69 at 3.) This video was viewed and relied upon by United in deciding to terminate Plaintiff.[1]

Todd Ebertowski, a United Customer Service Representative, happened to come aboard the plane in connection with an unrelated customer complaint about being seated next to a customer with a service dog. (ECF No. 69-6.) He had a brief conversation with Plaintiff, the content of which is disputed, and reported his disagreement to a supervisor. (ECF No. 64 at 6.) The resulting investigation led to the discovery of Plaintiff being aboard a plane to which she was not assigned and leaving with items from that flight which did not belong to her.

Plaintiff was placed on administrative leave, and on June 8, 2011, she attended a meeting with a supervisor and her union representative. (ECF No. 64-1 at 28.) In connection with that meeting, Plaintiff submitted a written Flight Attendant Report in which she stated that she took "a salad and a chicken wrap" and a "bottle water" from the plane. (ECF No. 64-4.) She stated that she took the food from the "old-inbound galley." ( Id. ) Plaintiff also advised that she "would like to apologize for my unprofessional behavior." ( Id. )[2]

On June 28, 2011, she attended another meeting, this time with Dean Whittaker, United's Director of Inflight Services, also along with her union representatives. ( Id. at 28, 31.) Mr. Whittaker terminated Plaintiff's ...


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