United States District Court, D. New Jersey
ISAAC T. AGBANIYAKA, Plaintiff,
CONTINENTAL AIRLINES, INC., now known as "United Airlines, Inc." and UNITED AIRLINES, INC., Defendants.
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.
former Continental Airlines, Inc. ("Continental")
pilot, Plaintiff brings this action against United Airlines,
Inc. ("UA"), alleging disparate treatment,
retaliation, and hostile work environment, in violation of
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 2000e et seq. ("Title
VII"). UA now moves for summary judgment under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. The Court decides the
matter without oral argument. FED. R. ClV. P. 78(b). For the
reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED.
following facts are undisputed unless otherwise
noted. A man of African descent, Plaintiff was
born in Nigeria, where he completed his aviation education.
Decl. of Amanda Inskeep ("Inskeep Decl."), Ex. A,
Dep. of Isaac Agbaniyaka 36:25-37:1, Mar. 17, 2016
("Pl's Dep"), ECF No. 114-3; Decl. of Edward
Trueblood ("Trueblood Decl."), Ex. A, Pl's Dep.
28:1-16, ECF No. 124. He moved to the United States in 1995.
Pl's Dep. 36:25-37:1. In 2001, Plaintiff began work as a
Continental pilot. Pl's Dep. 45:14-17. In between his
hiring and termination dates, Plaintiff and other pilots were
furloughed after the September 11th terrorist attacks. SMF
¶ 6. Following his furlough, in 2005, Plaintiff took a
leave of absence and returned to Continental in 2006.
Pl's Dep. 50:21-23. Continental then terminated Plaintiff
in 2011. Inskeep Decl., Ex. E., Pl's Dep. Ex. 12.
2005, Continental and the Air Line Pilots Association-the
exclusive bargaining representative of Continental
pilots-entered into a collective bargaining agreement
("CBA") that set out the terms and conditions of
employment. Decl. of Wayne Slaughter, Ex. C ("Slaughter
Decl."), ECF No. 114-4. The CBA permitted Continental
the right to compel a pilot to undergo a Fitness for Duty
("FFD") examination if it had, among other reasons,
"reasonable cause to question a pilot's ability to
perform his duties." Id.
at Continental, Plaintiff flew three types of aircraft and,
in each case, had to satisfy initial and recurrent training
requirements. SMF ]f]f 3, 19-20. The initial training
qualification programs involved ground school, flight
simulator and computer-based trainings, and initial operating
experience ("IOE"). Id. \ 19. IOE means
flying the aircraft with an instructor pilot and actual
passengers. Id. \ 20. After completing IOE, a pilot
is deemed qualified and can then fly regularly scheduled
flights. Id. \ 23. Once qualified, pilots undergo
recurrent trainings and evaluations throughout the year.
Id. \ 24.
in a simulated or live-flying environment with other pilots,
Plaintiff received substandard pilot proficiency grades.
Decl. of Clifford Pittman ]f]f 9, 29-31, 35 ("Pittman
Decl."), ECF No. 114-5; Inskeep Decl., Ex C, Dep. of
William Blocker 21:19-23:13, 71:12-19, Mar. 15, 2017
("Blocker Dep."). In such cases, Plaintiff went on
"short cycle" status, which meant reducing the time
between normal training and assessment intervals. Pittman
Decl. fflf 5-6; Pl's Dep. 150:11-22. Being placed in
short cycle status happened to Plaintiff more than once.
Pittman Decl. If 11, Ex. A. After an instructor rated
Plaintiff below proficient in a February 2011 flight
simulator training and in reviewing Plaintiffs training
history, Continental's Training Department decided to
stop Plaintiffs training. Id. \\ 32-3 4; Blocker
Dep. 23:1-12. This left Plaintiff's supervisory chief
pilot with a decision: either terminate Plaintiff or start
the FFD process.
of terminating Plaintiff's employment for failure to
perform, the chief pilot authorized an FFD exam to determine
if a medical issue impacted Plaintiffs flying abilities.
Inskeep Decl., Ex. B, Dep. of Fred Stankovich 57:2-58:7, Apr.
6, 2017; Pittman Decl. ¶ 34; Pl's Dep. Ex. 12. Once
it started, Plaintiff took actions to stop the exam.
First, through an attorney, he filed a disparate
treatment complaint over the February 2011 flight simulator
training event and then later raised additional
discriminatory claims. SMF TfTf 124, 131-38. Upon receiving
the more recent allegations, the chief pilot suspended the
FFD process until Continental's employee compliance
manager completed an investigation. Pl's Dep. Ex. 10;
Slaughter Decl. fflf 2-3. The investigator found all the
complaints unsubstantiated. SMF ¶ 140. Second,
Plaintiff filed a union grievance, which was denied. SMF
the discrimination complaints unfounded and after affording
extra time to complete the FFD exam, Plaintiff refused to
complete it. Pl's Dep. Ex. 10. In response, Continental
terminated his employment. SMF ¶ 122. Plaintiff then
filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
("EEOC") charge and UA admitted that the EEOC
issued Plaintiff a "Right to Sue" letter which gave
rise to this suit. Pl's Mem., Ex. A, ECF No. 21-1;
Defs.' Answer 1 8, ECF No. 47.
moves for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff failed to
meet its pilot performance expectations and, in any event, he
cannot show how Continental's articulated reason for
termination was a pretext for discrimination. See
Mem. in Supp. Defs Mot. Summ. J. 18-27, ECF No. 114-1. UA
also argues the Court must dismiss the retaliation claim on
the same job performance grounds. Id. at 27-29.
Finally, UA contends Plaintiff's unlawful harassment
claims, taken as a whole, lack the required severity or
pervasiveness to support a hostile work environment finding.
Id. at 29-32.
opposes, arguing the continued training requirements and the
FFD exam served as pretext for discrimination because he
performed his job satisfactorily. Mem. of Law in Opp'n to
Defs Mot. for Summ. J. 12-13, 18-19, ECF No. 123. Plaintiff
also argues Continental terminated him in retaliation for
filing the discrimination complaints. Id. at 18. In
reply, UA reiterates its arguments and contends Plaintiffs
Statement of Material Facts ("PSMF"), ECF No. 125,
and supporting declarations thereto, contain improper
argument, disputes to non-material facts, and contradictory
statements. UA's Reply Br. 1-15, ECF No. 126; Defs Reply
to PSMF 2-10, ECF No. 128.
judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R.
CIV. P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Turner v. Schering-Plough
Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 340 (3d Cir. 1990). A factual
dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could find for the
non-moving party and is material if it will affect the
outcome of the trial under governing substantive law.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). In its review, the Court considers all evidence and
inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party. Andreoli v. Gates, 482 F.3d 641,
647 (3d Cir. 2007).