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Williams v. United/Continental

United States District Court, D. Colorado

June 26, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on Defendant United Airlines, Inc.'s (“United”) Partial Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint or, in the Alternative, Motion for a More Definitive Statement. (Docket No. 35.) Judge Lewis T. Babcock referred the subject motion to the undersigned Magistrate Judge. (Docket No. 36.) The Court has reviewed the subject motion (Docket No. 17), Plaintiff Ellis Williams' (“Plaintiff”) Response (Docket No. 37), and Defendant's Reply. (Docket No. 38.) The Court has taken judicial notice of the Court's file, and considered the applicable Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and case law. The Court now being fully informed makes the following findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following allegations are taken from Plaintiff' First Amended Complaint (Docket No. 34) and are presumed to be true for the purposes of this motion.

         Plaintiff, who is a black man from Antigua and Barbuda with a noticeable Caribbean accent, is a former United employee. (Docket No. 34 ¶¶ 1 & 6.) For more than a decade, Plaintiff was a pilot for United Express-the brand name for the branch of United Airlines that operates short and medium regional flights-first as an officer, then as a captain. (Id. ¶ 8.) On January 5, 2016, Plaintiff was hired by United as a first officer. (Id. ¶ 9.) While pilots are covered by a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) between United and the airline pilot union, Air Line Pilots Association, International, they must first serve a probationary period during which they cannot file a grievance concerning discipline or discharge. (Id. ¶ 10.)

         Plaintiff had his orientation in Denver, Colorado, where he scored well on a written test and underwent a flight simulator evaluation. (Id. ¶¶ 11-12.) During the orientation, Plaintiff was promised that United is an equal opportunity employer that did not discriminate, and diversity was represented as a core value of the company. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff was teamed up with Cliff Davis-a white, non-Caribbean man-for the simulations. (Id. ¶ 12.)

         Plaintiff alleges that he was subject to the following acts of harassment and discrimination during the training process:

• On January 28, 2016, Pilot Instructor (“PI”) Jebb Baum permitted Davis to leave the simulation early due to a previous engagement, while Plaintiff had to complete the four-hour session. (Id. ¶ 13.)
• When they returned on January 28, 2016, PI Charles Taylor offered Williams a watermelon flavor Slurpee drink and offered a cherry flavor to Davis, which Plaintiff alleges was an intentional racial slur. (Id.)
• During another training session on February 2, 2018, Taylor instructed Plaintiff to “just sit on your hands and watch, ” and then criticized him for not doing anything, refusing to acknowledge that he had told Plaintiff to only sit and watch. (Id. ¶ 14.)
• On February 3, 2018, PI Brad Halloran told Plaintiff and Davis, “I think both of you are doing a great job, ” and “[i]f I was giving you your evaluation you both would have no problem passing.” He then addressed Plaintiff, “Ellis, I don't find there's a problem with you, I think you're just like a gentle giant, ” which Plaintiff alleges is “reflective of race discrimination and racial profiling by which large black men [like Plaintiff] are considered dangerous.” (Id. ¶ 15.)
• On February 4, 2016, Plaintiff alleges that Taylor disparaged his abilities, and told him, “So far, I know of four people who had failed and got fired, three of which were Spanish with heavy accents.” Considering his Caribbean accent, Plaintiff alleges that Taylor's remarks, which were directed only at him, reflect national origin discrimination. Taylor's behavior caused Plaintiff to feel humiliated and nervous, so much so he had to take a break during the training. (Id. ¶¶ 16-19.)
• Plaintiff passed this evaluation, but PI Taylor told him that he needed to take Plaintiff to his boss over his worry that Plaintiff would not be able to handle an actual emergency because he does not talk. Meanwhile, Davis, who also passed, got to leave. (Id. ¶ 20.)
• Plaintiff was never properly debriefed about what he did right or wrong during the training exercise; instead, PI Taylor took him to Rob Strickland, the Human Factor Manager. (Taylor's boss was out of the office.) While they were waiting, Taylor told Plaintiff that if it was not for Davis, he would not have passed the evaluation, and then repeated to Strickland his concerns about Plaintiff's ability to handle himself in an emergency. Plaintiff informed Strickland and Taylor that he had flown during actual emergencies. Taylor then criticized a typographical error Plaintiff made, and falsely implied that Plaintiff is probably dyslexic. On leaving the meeting, Taylor stated that he was going to give Plaintiff's next instructor/evaluator “the dirty down low” about Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.)
• Plaintiff spoke to Halloran after he left Strickland's office, but he did not tell him what happened with Taylor out of fear of retaliation. (Id. ¶ 23.)
• During his next few training sessions with instructors Kevin Mauch and Steve Renfro, Plaintiff passed his evaluations without incident. (Id. ¶ 24.)
• During the final phase of training, Plaintiff was given extra training that Davis was not required to complete, even though it was Davis, not Plaintiff, that needed it. (Id. ¶¶ 25-29.)
• On March 8, 2016, Plaintiff failed his “check ride” with Standards Captain Dave Wood due to “frivolous” and pretextual concerns that demonstrate that Wood made up his mind to fail him before the evaluation even started. (Id. ¶¶ 30-31.)
• Strickland told Plaintiff, who was ill, to go home and get some rest, so Plaintiff flew home to Washington D.C. When he arrived, he discovered that he was actually scheduled for training the next day, so he had to fly back, even though he was sick. Plaintiff alleges that Davis was given time off, and that he should have as well. (Id. ¶ 32.)
• On March 15, 2018, during his second ”check ride, ” Plaintiff was subjected to discrimination by Standards Captain Mark Rosenhahn and “seat-fill” instructor Steve Renfro, when they failed for follow the normal and proper conduct of a “check ride” and did not abide by standard procedures. Rosenhahn then made false comments to Flight Evaluator Bryan Wright, and Plaintiff ended up failing the evaluation. (Id. ¶¶ 33-46.)
• On March 21, 2018, Plaintiff was given the option to resign or be fired. He chose termination. ...

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