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GUEYE v. AIR AFRIQUE

March 4, 1996

MARIE LOUISE GUEYE, Plaintiff, against AIR AFRIQUE, Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: KRAM

 SHIRLEY WOHL KRAM, U.S.D.J.

 In this employment discrimination action, plaintiff Marie Louise Gueye ("Gueye") charges defendant Air Afrique with discriminating against her on the basis of age and race and retaliating against her for filing a discrimination claim, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 621, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e), and New York Executive Law § 296. Gueye seeks back pay, front pay, lost pension benefits, compensatory damages for emotional suffering, punitive damages, liquidated damages and an award of attorney's fees. On January 29 through February 1, 1996, the Court held a bench trial on Gueye's claims. *fn1" As set forth fully in the following findings of fact and conclusions of law, the Court finds in favor of defendant.

 FINDINGS OF FACT

 I. The Parties

 Air Afrique is an airline company owned by a consortium of ten West African nations. Its headquarters are in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and it maintains offices throughout the world, including an office in Manhattan, New York (the "Manhattan office") *fn2" and a cargo office near John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens, New York (the "Queens office").

 On August 12, 1985, Youssou Diagne ("Diagne"), the director of the North American office of Air Afrique, hired Gueye, a black female in her mid-fifties, to work as his executive secretary in the Manhattan office. Gueye possessed many years of secretarial experience prior to her employment at Air Afrique, including several years in the employ of the Organization of African Unity. At the time Gueye commenced work at Air Afrique, the Manhattan office was relatively small, consisting of seven employees in the following positions: (1) Diagne (director); (2) Charles Librader ("Librader") (commercial manager); (3) Chantal Manners ("Manners") (finance manager); (4) Peter Lintner ("Lintner") (sales representative); (5) Eliane Kaiser ("Kaiser") (secretary); (6) Michelle Smarth ("Smarth") (receptionist/secretary); and (7) Gueye (secretary). Def.'s Trial Exh. ("DX") "OO."

 In January 1986, Diagne assigned Gueye the job of interline representative in addition to her normal secretarial duties. The interline representative is primarily responsible for processing requests by Air Afrique employees to travel on other airlines and by employees of other airlines to travel on Air Afrique. Gueye replaced Manners, a white female in her late fifties, who had been working for Air Afrique since 1965 and who at that time was serving as interline representative as part of her role as Air Afrique's finance manager.

 II. Management Changes

 In 1988, Air Afrique experienced financial difficulties and the company's member nations decided to bring in a new management team to operate the airline. The new management group was headed by Yves Yoland-Billecarte, a white French citizen who had prior business experience dealing with several of the African nations that own Air Afrique. In September 1989, as part of Air Afrique's restructuring plan, Fernand Brigaud ("Brigaud"), an individual of mixed African and French lineage, replaced Diagne as Air Afrique's Director-North America. As Gueye remained in her position as secretary to the director of the Manhattan office, Brigaud immediately became Gueye's new supervisor.

 The reorganization at Air Afrique resulted in several changes directly affecting the Manhattan office. Most significantly, effective January 1990, Air Afrique decided to cancel a major contract with France's national airline, Air France. Under the old contract, Air France had performed many vital functions for Air Afrique such as processing reservations, sales and claims. With the cancellation of the Air France contract, Brigaud decided to institute several fundamental changes so that the Manhattan office could assume those functions which previously had been performed by Air France personnel. Trial Tr. at 245. For example, Brigaud reassigned existing personnel and redefined their responsibilities, hired additional employees for newly created positions and leased new space at the Manhattan office so that Air Afrique occupied space on the 27th floor in addition to its prior space on the 30th floor.

 With respect to hirings, terminations and reassignments, Brigaud took several actions. Brigaud first fired Librader, and eliminated his position as commercial manager in part so that he could maintain more direct contact with the other employees. Id. at 247, 352-53. Brigaud next hired two additional sales representatives, both white men in their early forties, to work with Lintner, the only other existing sales representative in the Manhattan office. At the same time, Brigaud hired Nadine Archer, a thirty-year-old black woman, to fill the position of commercial administrator, a new position responsible for overseeing travel agency sales of Air Afrique tickets.

 Brigaud also decided to reassign two current employees to new positions in the company. Specifically, Brigaud reassigned Smarth, a black woman in her mid-thirties, to work as secretary to the three sales representatives because she no longer had any work to do for Librader and there was insufficient work to occupy her time as a receptionist. Id. at 252-53. Brigaud also transferred Kaiser, a white woman in her early forties, to work in group reservations because she had some relevant experience in the group sales area. Id. at 253-54. At the same time, Brigaud hired Jeanette Nachef ("Nachef"), a thirty-three-year-old white woman, to replace Smarth as the new receptionist/secretary. Brigaud gave both Smarth and Kaiser small raises to reflect their added responsibilities. Id. at 255. Although it appears that Gueye was not afforded the opportunity to apply for these jobs, she in fact subsequently stated that she did not desire a promotion to either position. Id. at 139-42.

 During Brigaud's tenure as the North American director between 1989 and 1994, the composition of the employees by age and race did not change in any material way despite the substantial personnel overhaul at Air Afrique. Thus, the twelve original employees other than Brigaud included four blacks and eight whites, and included four employees in their thirties, four in their forties and four in their fifties. DX "OO." During Brigaud's five-year tenure, twenty-three new employees were hired for the Manhattan and Queens offices. These new employees consisted of twelve whites, eight blacks, one hispanic, one Asian and one individual of mixed black and Asian heritage. DX "PP." As for the ages of the new hirees, they break down as follows: four in their twenties, nine in their thirties, eight in their forties and two in their fifties. Id.

 During this period of reorganization at the Manhattan office, Brigaud instituted two other changes relevant to the present lawsuit. First, in January 1990, he instituted a new system of responsibility for answering Air Afrique's general telephone line on the 30th floor because the personnel changes reduced the number of secretaries on that floor. Trial Tr. at 255-57. Under the new system, outlined in a memorandum to all employees, Gueye, the only remaining secretary on the 30th floor, became responsible for answering the general telephone whenever Nachef, the receptionist, was at lunch or otherwise unavailable. DX "A." Gueye continued to hold this responsibility after Nachef was transferred and a new receptionist hired in her place. Trial Tr. at 263-64.

 Second, in November 1990, Brigaud decided to remove the interline responsibility from Gueye and return it to Manners, who previously had held the position. Brigaud took this action because he felt that Gueye's workload was overwhelming, he had received several complaints about Gueye's performance as the interline representative, and the interline position typically is filled by administrative and accounting personnel rather than by secretarial employees at Air Afrique. Id. at 279-83, 366. Brigaud decided that Manners should reassume the responsibility because of her experience as interline representative and since it appeared that the additional workload would not be unduly burdensome. Id. at 282. At that time, Brigaud gave Gueye certain other ...


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