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CHANDLER v. AMR AMERICAN EAGLE AIRLINE

March 14, 2003

KENTON CHANDLER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMR AMERICAN EAGLE AIRLINE, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nina Gershon, United States District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Kenton Chandler, age 54, is a part-time catering clerk for defendant, AMR American Eagle Airline ("Eagle"), a regional affiliate of American Airlines, which provides 1.400 flights per day throughout the United States, Canada, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean. Plaintiff brings this suit alleging failure to accommodate a disability pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. ("ADA"), and discrimination and hostile work environment pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. ("ADEA"). Plaintiff also alleges retaliation for the filing of his federal anti-discrimination claims. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on all of plaintiffs claims.

Statement of Facts

Unless otherwise indicated, the following facts are undisputed.

Plaintiff has been employed as a catering clerk in Eagle's catering department at John F. Kennedy International Airport ("JFK") in Queens, N.Y. since April 22. 1996. With the exception of the three month period between May 18, 1996 and August 31, 1996, plaintiff has worked as a part-time clerk throughout his employment at Eagle.

Eagle's catering department at JFK is managed by John Ferrara, Catering Manager. Mr. Ferrara makes decisions on hiring and firing within the department. He does not, however, provide on-site supervision of the work on the planes. The Lead Catering Clerk, Roger Heyliger, and Acting Lead Catering Clerk, Lamont Sinkler, provide that supervision. Mr. Heyliger and Mr. Sinkler also assign catering clerks to their daily work areas, complete paperwork relating to inventory, and assist the catering clerks with their general duties. In addition, Mr. Heyliger reviews the performance of potential employees during their probationary period and, on occasion, attends management meetings in Mr. Ferrara's stead.

Catering clerks at JFK are responsible for making ice, loading and stocking incoming planes, and taking inventory on the planes. Clerks service airplanes from two ramps at JFK and make use of three types of trucks while performing their duties. The first vehicle, an unheated two-passenger electric cart, is most commonly used to service the outer ramp. The cart is low to the ground and workers using it need not climb steps or bend to unload items when stocking planes. The second and third vehicles, a larger heated truck and a heated bus, are most commonly used to service the inner ramp. Both are equipped with stairs and require workers to climb steps and bend over when unloading items to stock the planes.

Eagle employs a bid system, based on seniority, that governs the distribution of shifts among employees. Bids for shifts, including requests to move to or from full-time work, occur every three months if triggered by an employee's request. If no complaints or requests regarding shift assignments are received by the Catering Manager, a bid will not occur. Plaintiff bid for his current shift in August 1996, at which time he elected to become a part-time employee.

Eagle pays overtime wages to all employees who work more than forty hours per week, regardless of their status as full- or part-time employees. Eagle's written policy regarding the distribution of overtime hours provides that hours exceeding scheduled shifts "will be offered in a manner fair to the employees and practical to the operation." According to the deposition testimony of Mr. Ferrara and Mr. Heyliger, it was "company policy" to ask part-time employees to work additional hours in order to avoid payment of overtime to full-time employees.

On March 6, 1999, plaintiff was injured when he slipped on the steps of a catering bus while servicing a plane on the outer ramp of the JFK terminal. Plaintiff finished his shift that day, but called in sick the following day. On March 8, 1999, plaintiff sought medical attention from American Airlines Medical Offices ("AA Medical"), Eagle's employee health service. Dr. Manuel Ceja of AA Medical diagnosed plaintiff with a "buttocks contusion" and placed him on light duty with a 15 pound lifting restriction. Thereafter, plaintiff returned to work.

On March 24, 1999, plaintiff commenced a short-term, seven week disability leave. During this leave, plaintiff saw physicians at AA Medical no fewer then seven times. Based on a March 24. 1999 x-ray by AA Medical, plaintiff was diagnosed with "spinal bifida" of the first sacral element. On April 27, 1999, plaintiff was evaluated by Dr. James C. Farmer of the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan who confirmed a diagnosis of "partial spinal bifida" and "loss of disc signal consistent with disc degeneration." Dr. Farmer recommended a course of rehabili:ative therapy and a bone scan to rule out occult fracture. On the same day, and at the request of Eagle's insurance carrier, plaintiff was evaluated by Dr. Robert Orlandi, an orthopedist with Concentra Medical Examinations. Dr. Orlandi diagnosed plaintiff with "resolving lumbar sprain without radicular sydrome" and recommended an immediate return to work with a two week restriction on "lifting over 10 pounds" and some limitations on bending. Despite this recommendation, plaintiffs leave continued for another three weeks. On May 13, 1999, plaintiff was examined again by AA Medical and was cleared to return to light duty work with a temporary bending and 15 pound lifting restriction. Plaintiff returned to work on May 16, 1999.

On June 6, 1999, apparently at the request of a female co-worker, Josefina Araya, plaintiff was re-assigned from his work on the outer ramp with Ms. Araya to a job on the inner ramp with Acting Lead Catering Clerk, Mr. Sinkler. Mr. Sinkler and plaintiff had a history of acrimony. Plaintiff alleges that in approximately June of 1998, Mr. Sinkler threatened plaintiffs life, threw a handful of bullets at plaintiff, and had to be physically restrained from striking plaintiff. Following this incident, plaintiff and Mr. Sinkler interacted and worked together on numerous occasions. Plaintiff reports no subsequent incidents of violence.

On June 7, 1999, plaintiff filed a complaint against Eagle with the EEOC alleging age and disability discrimination. Several hours later, plaintiff met with Sarah Shannon-Gorman, Eagle's Human Resources Representative, and Jackie Losiage, Eagle's Regional Managing Director, to complain of discriminatory treatment in relation to work assignments, his "bad back," and his belief that he was being discriminated against because of his age. During the course of that meeting, plaintiff suffered an acute panic attack and was sent to AA Medical for evaluation.

On June 8, 1999, plaintiff was placed on an extended, unpaid medical leave of absence. Plaintiffs physician, Dr. Herbert Weiner, submitted a letter to Eagle on June 24, 1999 asserting that plaintiff was "totally disabled" and diagnosing plaintiff with "cervical derangement, low back derangement with radiculopathy, internal derangement of right shoulder, contusion sprain of right hand and leg, [and] post-traumatic A/D with panic attacks."

On December 16, 1999, the EEOC issued a Right to Sue letter to plaintiff. On March 20, 2000, plaintiff initiated this suit.

On September 7, 2000, plaintiff appeared before the New York State Worker's Compensation Board. The presiding administrative law judge found that plaintiff continued to suffer from a "moderate, partial causally related disability" and awarded plaintiff benefits of $74.58 per week to cover the time period from August 3, 1999 to December 2000.

On February 6, 2001, plaintiff notified Eagle's counsel that plaintiff was "immediately" ready to return to work. On March 1, 2001, Eagle's counsel replied to that notification by outlining certain "procedural steps" that plaintiff was required to take before resuming work. These included an examination by plaintiffs personal physician and clearance from Eagle's medical department based on that examination. On March 6, 2001, plaintiffs attorney acknowledged receipt of the March 1, 2001 letter and requested "all written ...


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