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Woldeselassie v. American Eagle Airlines/American Airlines

United States District Court, S.D. New York

February 2, 2015

ELENI WOLDESELASSIE, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN EAGLE AIRLINES/AMERICAN AIRLINES, et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

LORNA G. SCHOFIELD, District Judge.

Pro se Plaintiff Eleni Woldeselassie brings this action against American Airlines, Inc., American Eagle Airlines, Inc., (together, "AE"), individual AE employees Linda Kunz, Susan Piper, Brandi Araujo, Lisa Snyder and Todd Steffen (together with AE, the "AE Defendants"), the Association of Flight Attendants (the "Union"), and individual Union representatives Jon Orozco, Debbie Lynch, Richard Wrede and Carol Harper (together with the Union, the "Union Defendants") for employment discrimination on the basis of Plaintiff's alleged disability. The Complaint alleges unlawful termination, failure to accommodate Plaintiff's disability, unequal terms and conditions of employment and retaliation, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law §§ 290 et seq. ("NYSHRL"), and the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code §§ 8-101 et seq. ("NYCHRL"). Plaintiff also asserts that Defendants denied her leave in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq. ("FMLA").

The AE Defendants move for summary judgment. The Union Defendants move to dismiss the claims against them or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. For the following reasons, both motions are granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed, taken from Plaintiff's deposition, or taken in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.

A. Plaintiff's Transfer Requests

Plaintiff was employed by AE as a flight attendant from May 2008 to May 2012. In her four years at AE, Plaintiff transferred home bases a total of seven times, alternating between Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. A majority of Plaintiff's transfers were for personal, nonhealth-related reasons. From May 2008 to around the beginning of July 2008, Plaintiff worked from Chicago. In around early July 2008, Plaintiff transferred to New York because she wanted to try living without her family and "do her own thing." Approximately one month later, around late July 2008, Plaintiff transferred back to Chicago because New York "wasn't for [her]." In January 2009, Plaintiff transferred to Los Angeles, to "see what it would be like... to be somewhere else." In July 2009, Plaintiff transferred back to Chicago again, this time because she wanted to be closer to her family and her physician, Dr. Yeo. In August 2010, Plaintiff transferred back to Los Angeles. In February 2011, Plaintiff transferred from Los Angeles to Chicago. In January or February 2012, Plaintiff transferred back to New York.

In August 2012, Plaintiff requested a final transfer, from New York back to Chicago, citing hardship due to health concerns, and submitting a note from Dr. Yeo to that effect. Plaintiff testified at her deposition that she put in the hardship transfer request because she "really felt like working out of New York was not working for [her]... [and] [i]t was inconvenient" because Dr. Yeo was in Chicago. Dr. Yeo worked across the street from where her family lived, and both Plaintiff and Dr. Yeo testified that there was no particular reason Plaintiff needed to see Dr. Yeo, a general practitioner whom Plaintiff saw approximately four times over a two-and-a-half year period for Adderall prescriptions. Dr. Yeo testified that if he had known Plaintiff lived in New York, he would have advised her to see a doctor there.

AE personnel temporarily denied Plaintiff's transfer request, but kept her on the transfer list, and suggested that in the meantime, as an alternative way to get time off, she apply for FMLA leave or "trip-trade" with another flight attendant.

B. Plaintiff's Attendance Record

Throughout her career at AE, Plaintiff was frequently tardy or absent and received multiple warnings for unexcused absences and tardiness. Plaintiff routinely failed to appear for meetings with her supervisors to discuss her attendance record.

On February 5, 2009, Plaintiff's supervisor at the time, Jessica Wilber, met with Plaintiff to discuss her attendance record after Plaintiff missed an assignment, reported late and called in sick twice during her first few months at AE. At the meeting, Wilber gave Plaintiff an advisory "Attendance Letter Review" that recorded issues with her attendance. On June 20, 2010, Plaintiff received a second Attendance Letter Review, after she missed four assignments, was late four times, called in sick five times, and failed to call or report to work for three days in a row. On January 12, 2011, Wilber scheduled another meeting with Plaintiff to discuss her attendance. Plaintiff failed to appear for the meeting. At her deposition, Plaintiff testified that she did not attend the meeting with Wilber because she "didn't want to. And that's that."

On July 7, 2011, Plaintiff's supervisor attempted to meet with her about her attendance record. The following, day, after Plaintiff failed to respond to her supervisor's attempt to contact her, a different AE manager approached Plaintiff at the airport about her attendance record and gave her a third Attendance Letter Review. The Attendance Letter Review recorded that for the period from July 2010 to July 2011, Plaintiff called in sick eight times, missed nine assignments, was late twice and took six personal days. The manager also warned Plaintiff that she was abusing flight attendant privileges by taking complimentary flights on days she called in sick or missed assignments.

On September 12, 2011, another manager met Plaintiff directly at her flight to give her a "First Step Advisory, " which recorded that for the period of September 12, 2010, to September 12, 2011, Plaintiff was absent 24 times, missed 21 assignments and reported late twice. Plaintiff testified that it was "unfair that [she] was forced to have a meeting with [the manager] after work" and that the meeting caused her to lose her laptop. Plaintiff testified that "nothing was done" about her lost laptop.

On April 26, 2012, Plaintiff received a Second Step Advisory, covering the period from April 25, 2011, to April 25, 2012, which recorded that Plaintiff had missed forty-five work assignments, totaling ninety-three days, and had arrived late on seventeen occasions. At her deposition, Plaintiff testified that she has no basis to dispute the accuracy of her attendance records.

In the period leading up to and after the Second Step Advisory, Plaintiff's supervisors unsuccessfully attempted to meet with her on multiple occasions. On March 1, 2012, a supervisor emailed Plaintiff to schedule a meeting; Plaintiff did not respond to the email or attend the meeting. On March 7, 2012, the supervisor emailed again to schedule a meeting and Plaintiff again failed to respond or attend the meeting. On March 22, 2012, two of Plaintiff's supervisors asked to meet with her; Plaintiff responded that she could not meet with them because she was having an allergic reaction. On April 1, 2012, after numerous failed attempts to meet with Plaintiff, a supervisor met Plaintiff directly at the aircraft to discuss Plaintiff's attendance, and issued a final warning, stating that Plaintiff would receive her Second Step Advisory if she did not improve her attendance, and would suffer disciplinary action. A few days later, however, Plaintiff missed another assignment. On April 10, 2012, a supervisor emailed Plaintiff to inquire about the missed assignment; Plaintiff responded four days later, stating that she was in Chicago seeing her doctor but decided not to call in sick because she "didn't need/want to be off of work for 2 days."

On April 17, 2012, a supervisor emailed Plaintiff that she should come to the office for a meeting regarding attendance. Plaintiff did not respond to the email or attend the meeting. On April 25, 2012, Plaintiff was again directed via email to meet with her supervisors; she again failed to meet with them, responding only two days later to say that a family member had passed away. On May 11, 2012, a supervisor scheduled another meeting which Plaintiff failed to attend. On May 12, 2012, the supervisor attempted to schedule yet another meeting, writing that "failure to respond to this directive is considered insubordination and grounds for termination." Yet again, Plaintiff failed to respond to the meeting request or attend the meeting. Plaintiff's supervisors attempted to meet with her a final time on May 23, 2012, and again warned her that failure to appear would result in disciplinary action, including termination; Plaintiff again failed to appear and did not contact her supervisors to alert them that she would not be attending the meeting. Plaintiff testified that she had called in sick to the crew scheduling department, and that her supervisor should have known she had called in sick and would not make the meeting. Plaintiff agreed at her deposition that her supervisor had tried to contact her many times before the May 23, 2012 meeting.

On May 24, 2012, Plaintiff was discharged for insubordination in violation of AE's policies.

C. Additional Leave under the FMLA

During her employment at AE, Plaintiff also took authorized leave under the FMLA, beginning in January 2010. According to the FMLA form Plaintiff initially submitted to AE in or around January 2010, she required FMLA leave for various ailments, including rheumatism, migraine headaches and gastritis. Plaintiff's doctor testified that the conditions he listed on the FMLA leave form were based solely on what Plaintiff told him about her past diagnoses, and were not based on tests he performed. At her deposition, Plaintiff testified that she has suffered for a few years from a few different disabilities, with her main concern being her chest, which sometimes feels like it is being pressed upon and causes shortness of breath. According to Plaintiff, her other disabilities include a cyst on her wrist which makes it "hard for [her] to pick up stuff and do whatever, " cramps, and bad headaches "like migraines."

The initial FMLA form Plaintiff submitted did not state how often Plaintiff required FMLA leave. At AE's request, Dr. Yeo clarified that Plaintiff should be given leave "once a week possibly" for one to two days a week. Dr. Yeo testified that he did not understand the FMLA certification form, and after speaking with a doctor working with AE, he revised the suggested period of leave from one to two days a week to one to two weeks a year, which was consistent with Plaintiff's symptoms. On March 31, 2010, AE authorized Plaintiff to take one to two weeks a year for the period from January 8, 2010 to January 7, 2011.

On June 8, 2010, Dr. Yeo submitted a revised FMLA form at Plaintiff's request, which asserted that Plaintiff should be eligible for leave twice a month for two day periods. Dr. Yeo testified that he made the change based on what "she told [him]." After speaking with a doctor employed by AE, Dr. Yeo changed the form to state that Plaintiff required leave once a month for up to two days, which, according to his testimony, was more consistent with Plaintiff's needs than his previous assessment of two leaves ...


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