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Gratton v. JetBlue Airways

July 21, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Denise Cote, District Judge


Plaintiff Michelle Gratton ("Gratton") complains that JetBlue Airways ("JetBlue") fired her because of her pregnancy. For the following reasons, JetBlue's motion for summary judgment is granted.


The plaintiff discovered she was pregnant in August 2003, and immediately informed her employer JetBlue. The plaintiff contends that JetBlue terminated her employment in February 2004, when it forced her to take extended leave after engaging in a "phony attempt" to place her in a soft-work program. Believing that her employment had been terminated, she did not contact JetBlue or return to work following the birth of her child in April, she applied for unemployment insurance, and she filed claims of discrimination with the EEOC. She asserts that JetBlue engaged in retaliatory conduct when it sent her a notice in October 2004 advising her about pension benefits. The following facts, drawn from the record the parties have presented on summary judgment, are undisputed or taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, unless otherwise indicated.

Gratton Joins JetBlue in Vermont; Job Descriptions

Gratton was hired in Burlington, Vermont in February 2001, as a part-time Ground Operations employee ("GO"), which is also known as a below-the-wing or ramp employee or customer service crewmember ("CSC"). A GO cleans the aircraft, loads and unloads the cargo compartment of the aircraft, transports bags to and from the aircraft and the baggage claim area, drives the tugs to marshal in the aircraft, monitors ground equipment to make sure it is safe and reliable, and performs aircraft security checks.

There is a second CSC position, known as an airport operations ("AO") or above-the-wing employee. In January 2002, Gratton was cross-trained to perform both GO and AO duties. An AO's duties during daytime shifts include checking-in customers at a ticket counter, handling bags, working at the gate, and driving the jetbridge. At night, an AO drives the jetbridge, assists passengers leaving the plane, responds to passenger complaints, takes baggage claims, and cleans the aircraft.

Pursuant to written policy and as a requirement of hiring, both AOs and GOs were required to be able to lift up to 100 pounds.*fn1 Gratton was required to and did lift luggage when working as a AO and a GO.

Shifts at JetBlue are assigned to CSCs through a seniority bidding system. There can be several months between bidding opportunities. If an employee arrives at a station after a bidding period, the employee is assigned to a schedule until the next bidding opportunity.

Gratton Moves to Tampa and Learns of Her Pregnancy

In July 2003, Gratton asked to transfer to the Tampa station as a part-time CSC. The transfer was granted on the understanding that she would work as a cross-utilized CSC, working as both a GO and AO. The Tampa station, where Gratton worked from July to September 2003, had not fully adopted cross-utilization until March 2003. CSCs who joined the Tampa station after September 2001, however, were hired with the understanding that cross-utilization was part of their employment. When Gratton arrived at the Tampa Station in July 2003, it was between bidding periods. The next bid was to be held in September 2003.

On August 12, 2003, Gratton discovered she was pregnant when she fainted while running. Gratton told William Thro ("Thro"), the General Manager of the station, that she was pregnant and wanted to work exclusively as an AO.*fn2 She was concerned that working on the ramp in the Florida heat would endanger her health and pose a danger to others if she fainted. Thro responded that he could temporarily schedule her to work at the ticket counter for the remainder of the week, but that if she could not perform her duties as a GO or cross-utilized CSC that she would have to take disability or extended leave.

The plaintiff has offered no evidence that any other temporarily disabled employee at the Tampa Station was treated any differently. For instance, the plaintiff has offered no evidence that the Tampa Station had any CSC at that time who suffered from a temporary disability and who was permitted to work exclusively as an AO or GO. Three CSCs at the Tampa Station had previously been pregnant. One asked to and took disability leave. After another woman learned that her physician did not want her working outside, she took disability leave. The third did not advise JetBlue that there were any restrictions imposed on her while she worked. In addition, as of September 2003, only two CSCs at the Tampa station were exempt from working cross-utilization schedules. Each of them had been hired prior to September 2001, the date at which cross-utilization was implemented at Jet Blue.

On August 18, Gratton contacted the personnel office at JetBlue, which is known as the People Department. She spoke to Deirdre Harris, who in turn called Thro. Thro explained to Harris that the Tampa station was cross-utilized and that he could not allow Gratton to be an exception to that policy and work solely as an AO. Harris advised Gratton of Thro's position.

Gratton then asked that she be permitted to swap her ramp shifts for AO shifts. According to JetBlue's written policy, CSCs were permitted to swap scheduled shifts on occasion if they had the approval of management. They were not permitted to swap schedules either on a permanent basis or for an extended period of time. Cross-trained CSCs were not permitted to swap shifts to get a schedule to work exclusively as an AO or GO. The plaintiff has offered no evidence of any exception at the Tampa station to this written policy.

Gratton Returns to Vermont

On September 9, as Gratton's complaints about her situation in Tampa were being investigated, Gratton decided to return to Burlington, Vermont, and pursue returning to work for JetBlue there. On September 15, Linda Daire from the People Department advised Gratton that JetBlue was developing a soft-work program for CSCs with work restrictions. Even though the program was not yet in place, she offered Gratton the opportunity to work a 30-day shift and thereafter take leave.

On September 18, Gratton's doctor advised Gratton that she should not lift over 25 pounds or work in heat of over 100°. Gratton had an expected delivery date in April. The doctor recorded her instructions in a note. Gratton met with JetBlue personnel in the Vermont station in early October, and advised them of the restrictions on lifting. JetBlue advised Gratton that it would consider the possibility of a 30-day schedule given these restrictions, and get back to her.

On December 2, JetBlue offered Gratton a 30-day light duty schedule that required her to work 30 consecutive days. Gratton requested instead that she be allowed to take off the seven days from Christmas to New Year's Day. JetBlue responded that it would call ...

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