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Price v. American Eagle Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Alexandria Division

December 22, 2014


For Ashley Price, Plaintiff: Tamara Simone Battles, LEAD ATTORNEY, Alexandria, LA.

For American Eagle Airlines Inc, formerly doing business as Envoy Air Inc, Defendant: Steven M Oxenhandler, LEAD ATTORNEY, Gold Weems et al, Alexandria, LA; Lauren E Mutti, Tracey R Wallace, PRO HAC VICE, Jackson Walker (DAL), Dallas, TX.




Before the court is a motion filed by American Eagle Airlines, Inc. (" American Eagle" or " Defendant") seeking dismissal of all federal and state claims against it in the above-captioned civil rights suit.[1] For the reasons expressed herein below, the court finds that Defendant's motion should be GRANTED in full.


Relevant Facts

This suit is brought by Ashley Price (" Plaintiff" or " Price") against her former employer American Eagle alleging violation of her civil rights under both Louisiana and federal law.[2] Plaintiff was hired by American Eagle as a station agent on December 6, 2006.[3] Plaintiff was assigned to American Eagle's location at Alexandria International Airport (" AEX") in Alexandria, Louisiana.[4]

Plaintiff's duties as a station agent included, among other things, checking passengers in for flights, assisting with ticketing or rebooking issues and the lifting and transport of luggage to and from various locations in the airport.[5] As a station agent, plaintiff was also required to load and unload luggage from the aircraft.[6]

Plaintiff became pregnant in 2008 and asserts that, though she didn't formally request what American Eagle refers to as " light duty status" during that pregnancy, her supervisor, Jesse Tobin (" Tobin" L instructed her not to lift heavy bags.[7] Plaintiff asserts that this reduction in duties by Tobin was never reduced to writing.[8] Plaintiff suffered an unfortunate miscarriage in October of 2008.[9]

Plaintiff became pregnant again in 2009.[10] Plaintiff asserts that Tobin again put plaintiff on light duty during this pregnancy.[11] Tobin was replaced as station manager in June 2009 by Ms. Nilsa Moret (" Moret"). Plaintiff alleges that, under Moret's supervision, she was denied light duty status and told that if she could not perform the full duties of her station agent job, she would need to go on unpaid maternity leave until the baby was born.[12] Plaintiff alleges that she was forced to produce documentation from her doctor stating that she could perform the duties of her job with no restrictions.[13] Plaintiff states that she feared that, if she did not produce the requested documentation, she would be forced to take unpaid leave, which she could not afford.[14] Plaintiff alleges that several of her coworkers harassed her and accused her of " milking" her pregnancy and faking the difficulties of her pregnancy.[15] Plaintiff asserts that she was made to lift heavy bags against her wishes.[16]

On October 22, 2009, plaintiff was scheduled to fly to Dallas for training. Plaintiff reported to work, but was feeling ill and spoke with several coworkers about her discomfort and her desire to rebook her training for the following day.[17] Plaintiff did not speak to Moret about her condition and, instead, boarded her flight to Dallas and attended training as scheduled.[18]

Plaintiff was admitted to the hospital that evening after returning from Dallas with preeclampsia and delivered her daughter prematurely two days later.[19] Plaintiff alleges that she corresponded with Moret via email, keeping her updated as to when plaintiff planned to begin work again.[20] Plaintiff alleges that Moret " became upset and refused to respond to any [of her] requests ... " at which time she contacted Joe Overbeck, Moret's supervisor to file a complaint about Moret's conduct.[21] Plaintiff resigned her position in March of 2010.[22]

Plaintiff asserts that she filed a timely charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC") and was issued a Notice of Right to Sue, thus exhausting her administrative remedies prior to filing suit in this court. Plaintiff filed the instant suit in this court on June B, 2010, asserting violations of Louisiana's Employment Discrimination Law (La. R.S. 23:301, et seq.) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.) as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Plaintiff asserts employment discrimination claims under these statutes in the form of hostile work environment and constructive discharge.

American Eagle filed the instant motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of all claims against it on the basis that plaintiff's claims fail as a matter of law and no genuine fact dispute exists regarding its entitlement to judgment on these claims. All briefs have been received in this matter and the court finds the motion is now properly before the court for decision.[23]

Applicable Standard

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) provides that summary judgment shall be granted when the movant shows the absence of any genuine dispute as to any material fact and, for that reason, shows that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The movant must demonstrate the absence of any genuine dispute as to any material fact by citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents and affidavits.[24] The movant may demonstrate entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by pointing out the nonmoving party's inability to produce evidence which, when taken as true for the purposes of the motion, would provide a legally sufficient basis upon which a reasonable jury might base a judgment in the nonmoving party's favor.[25]

Once a motion for summary judgment is made and properly supported, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with evidence which demonstrates the essential elements of his claims.[26] In so doing, the nomoving party establishes the existence of a genuine issue of material fact for trial. The nonmoving party must show that the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to him, is sufficient to enable a reasonable jury to render a verdict in his favor.[27] A party whose claims are challenged by a motion for summary judgment may not rest on the allegations of the complaint and must articulate specific factual allegations which meet his burden of proof.[28]

If the nonmoving party meets his burden of proof, summary judgment is inappropriate and the claims must be preserved for further proceedings. If, on the other hand, the nonmoving party does not meet his burden, the court must grant summary judgment in recognition of the implausibility of the claims at issue.[29]

All evidence submitted to the court in support of or in opposition to a motion for summary judgment must be of the sort which would be admissible at the trial of the matter.[30] " Metaphysical doubt" as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial is insufficient, as are " unsubstantiated assertions" and " conclusory allegations[.]" [31] The court will construe all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, but will not infer the existence of evidence not presented.[32]


Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

Plaintiffs alleging employment discrimination must exhaust administrative remedies as a " precondition" of filing suit in federal court.[33] Exhaustion occurs when a plaintiff timely files a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and receives a statutory notice of right to sue.[34]

Defendant cites Federal Express Corporation v. Holowecki, [35] a 2008 decision by the United States Supreme Court, as authority for the conclusion that the instant plaintiff did not exhaust her administrative remedies and dismissal is warranted on that basis. In Holowecki, the Court took up the issue of whether or not a plaintiff's EEOC intake questionnaire and attached affidavit were sufficient under applicable EEOC regulations to constitute a " charge" within the meaning of Title VII's exhaustion requirement. Reviewing the five key pieces of information that a charge should contain according to 29 C.F.R. § 1626.3, the operative regulation, the court found that, taken together, the questionnaire and the affidavit were sufficient to constitute the requisite " charge" and, thus, the exhaustion requirement was fulfilled.

Defendant points to language by the Court noting that, were it forced to consider the questionnaire alone, it likely would not have been able to reach the same result, considering the requirements of the regulation. Defendant asserts that Price failed to attach any affidavit to her questionnaire and that, standing alone, her intake questionnaire is insufficient to constitute a charge for exhaustion purposes, particularly on the basis that it fails to ask for remedial relief.[36] Defendant asserts that such relief could not have been sought since Plaintiff testified that, at the time she completed the questionnaire, she planned to return to work and was no longer in need of light duty, having delivered her child months earlier.[37]

The court has reviewed the intake questionnaire at issue and disagrees with American Eagle's characterization of it in this matter. First, applying the requirements discussed in Holowecki, plaintiff's questionnaire contains the names, addresses and telephone numbers of both the charging party and her employer, against whom the claim of discrimination is made. Plaintiff's questionnaire contains a statement of facts alleging facts she believes to be discriminatory at page 2, question 6. Plaintiff's questionnaire contains a statement regarding the number of employees employed by American Eagle at page 1, question 2. Plaintiff's questionnaire contains a statement regarding whether or not she has instituted state ...

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