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PITTMAN v. CONTINENTAL AIRLINES

February 3, 1999

TERESA PITTMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CONTINENTAL AIRLINES, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kauffman, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff, Teresa Pittman ("Plaintiff"), has brought this action against Defendant Continental Airlines, Inc. ("Defendant") under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq. (1994) ("Title VII"), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Cons.Stat. § 951 et seq. (1991) ("PHRA"). Plaintiff claims that Defendant discriminated against her on the basis of her gender, was responsible for her hostile working environment, and wrongfully retaliated against her for pursuing her rights. Defendant has moved for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTS

The following facts have been taken from the submissions by the parties and viewed in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, the non-moving party.*fn1 Plaintiff began working for Defendant in Houston, Texas on October 21, 1990. On March 14, 1994, she transferred to Defendant's Philadelphia Airport location and began work at the ticket counter. Upon commencing work in Philadelphia, Plaintiff encountered flirtatious advances from Herbert Holmes ("Holmes"). Holmes was a supervisor from the luggage ramp area, known as the "Ramp," but was not Plaintiff's supervisor during her employment at the ticket counter. Holmes asked Plaintiff for dates, inquired about her personal life, and commented on her body. Plaintiff found Holmes's behavior unprofessional. At some point, Plaintiff mentioned Holmes's behavior to her supervisor, Jim Pleak ("Pleak"), in an attempt to discern the "general atmosphere" on the subject. It is unclear whether Plaintiff asked Pleak to do anything about the problem, and it does not appear that she registered a formal complaint. In any event, Pleak did not respond to Plaintiff's statement. Plaintiff eventually succeeded in convincing Holmes to leave her alone, and, for the most part, he focused his attentions elsewhere.

In July 1994, Plaintiff applied for a transfer to the Ramp, where Holmes worked as a supervisor. The General Manager, Lenny Gawlikowski ("Gawlikowski"), attempted to discourage Plaintiff from transferring by praising the work she was doing at the ticket counter. He also stated that the Ramp was a "men's locker room type" of environment and that, as a woman, Plaintiff would prefer to work at the ticket counter.*fn2 Nevertheless, Plaintiff received her transfer and began work on the Ramp in August 1994.

Upon reassignment to the Ramp, Plaintiff was humiliated by the issuance of a uniform that was two sizes too small. She was told by sources unidentified in the record that management had issued the ill-fitting uniform intentionally to humiliate her.

Plaintiff's first assignment on the Ramp was to the mailroom, which was removed somewhat from the actual loading ramp. She worked in the mailroom for a year, performing occasional overtime work on the loading ramp. In the mailroom, she worked alone or with one other coworker. During this period, Holmes did not annoy, act rudely towards, or bother Plaintiff. In her own words, during the first year, "everything was fine" for Plaintiff, and she "loved it" at the mailroom.

In August 1995, Defendant ceased using its own employees in the mailroom, and Plaintiff was assigned to work full-time at the loading ramp, under more direct supervision from Holmes. Now more commingled with the other Ramp employees, most of whom were male, Plaintiff encountered personal conversation and banter, some of which involved sex and sexual relationships.*fn3 Greg Mann ("Mann"), a Ramp employee, asked Plaintiff if she had received breast implants. When she responded in the affirmative, he asked if she had suffered from cancer. Plaintiff was not offended by Mann's questions, but did not "appreciate" the teasing that followed. Plaintiff complained to one of the "leads," Chris Hartman ("Hartman"), about working with Greg Strong ("Strong"), who was "just really getting into [her] personal life" and did not "know when to shut up."*fn4 Hartman instructed Strong to leave Plaintiff alone and allowed her to work in another area.

Plaintiff freely engaged in discussions about sex and the relationships between Ramp employees, but got out of the conversation when it became "graphic." She also did not object to her co-workers asking her out on dates, as long as they did not pursue the matter after she "definitely said no." During her tenure at the Ramp, Plaintiff flirted with and dated a Ramp employee, Tony Wyatt. She also telephoned a fellow Ramp employee, Frank White ("White"), at home and asked him why he would not accept a ride home with her and whether he was a homosexual. Some of the Ramp employees bothered Plaintiff, but overall, she enjoyed the atmosphere working there.

Defendant maintained a progressive discipline system for lateness, attendance, and other discipline issues. "Instances" of lateness or absence were divided into "accountable" and "unaccountable" categories. Accountable instances were recorded for each employee on a one-year rolling basis. Each accountable instance would "roll-off" one year after its occurrence and would no longer count against the employee. Varying degrees of discipline resulted from each increase, with seven accountable instances warranting termination. Each time that an employee accrued an accountable instance, a supervisor would record the event with an "Absence from Duty Report," which the supervisor and the employee would sign. Shortly thereafter, the supervisor would also execute an "Attendance Review" form, which provided an updated balance of the employee's accountable instances, stated how many instances had been added and rolled-off since the last such report, and stated the date of the next instance roll-off.

Between October 20, 1994 and June 28, 1995 (all during Plaintiff's assignment to the mailroom), Plaintiff received four accountable instances, two for lateness and two for absence due to sickness. Her balance at the beginning of this period was two, and her balance at the end was three. (Three instances had rolled-off during that period.) On July 28, 1995, Plaintiff received another accountable instance for absence due to sickness, but the accompanying Attendance Review form stated her initial balance as four, leaving her with a balance of five. The form stated that her next roll-off would occur on August 7, 1995. On September 12, 1995, Plaintiff received another accountable instance for sickness, but the accompanying Attendance Review form failed to credit her with the roll-off that was supposed to occur in August, leaving her with a balance of six. Another instance for lateness occurred on October 12, 1995, leaving Plaintiff with a balance of seven ("the October 12 instance"). The next roll-off was to occur on October 22, 1995. On October 30, Plaintiff was late again, and received an accountable instance ("the October 30 instance"). Again, however, the records failed to reflect the passage of the October 12 roll-off date, leaving her with a balance of eight, one instance over the minimum for termination. On all of these records save the October 30 instance, Holmes was the supervisor preparer and signatory. When asked in his deposition about these errors, Holmes was unable to explain. The parties have stipulated that Plaintiff received no instance reports between July 31 and September 12, 1995.

The October 12 lateness, which provoked an instance report, was caused by a bomb scare near Plaintiff's apartment complex. A letter from Delaware police and Holmes's deposition testimony reveal that Plaintiff was late because all the roadways surrounding her apartment had been closed. Holmes chose to record this lateness as an accountable instance. The October 30 instance occurred because Plaintiff left her identification badge in her car when she arrived at work, which prevented her from clocking in on time. Holmes decided to hold Plaintiff responsible for an accountable instance.

Plaintiff signed each of the attendance instances listed above, but did not sign the June 28 and October 12 Attendance Review forms. The September 12 Attendance Review form, which Plaintiff signed and which left her with the (apparently inflated) balance of six, indicated that Plaintiff had received her "Final Termination Warning" and that another accountable instance (presumably before a roll-off) would result in termination.

Plaintiff has also testified in her deposition that towards the end of her tenure on the Ramp, Holmes "picked on" her and singled her out for discipline. When she asked Holmes about this problem, he replied, according to Plaintiff, "it would be different if you were nicer to me."

Defendant's employee handbook for cargo agents and customer service agents prohibits "[s]leeping, loafing on the job, or intentionally restricting output." Plaintiff knew of this general rule, but claims that it was not enforced in Philadelphia. Plaintiff avers, and has provided affidavits of Ramp employees in agreement, that Ramp employees slept freely during work hours with the full knowledge and acquiescence of the supervisors, including Holmes and Gawlikowski. Holmes testified in his deposition that he never saw any employees sleeping, but that he had seen employees lying down with their heads down and their eyes closed. Holmes claimed that he would ask these employees if they were sleeping, and they would respond, "no." Holmes accepted this and concluded that the employees were not sleeping but were merely resting. Gawlikowski testified in his deposition that he did not tolerate sleeping on the job.

In July 1995, the sleeping policy on the Ramp changed, as a "crackdown" on sleeping on the job occurred in response to complaints about mailroom employees not being present when required. Plaintiff was one of the first objects of the new enforcement effort. On July 3, 1995, while still working in the mailroom, she and White went to sleep during a slow point in the shift. Plaintiff soon woke up, and Holmes and another supervisor, Joni Jones ("Jones"), approached her and accused her of sleeping. Plaintiff freely admitted it, assuming that sleeping was not a discipline issue. She was surprised to learn that Ramp employees were not permitted to sleep. She received from Jones and signed a termination warning for the incident, which stated that termination may result if she were caught sleeping again.

Two other employees, Elizabeth Bagwell ("Bagwell") and Thomas Reardon ("Reardon"), also received written disciplinary notices as a result of the new enforcement effort. Plaintiff viewed the termination warning as a "big eye opener" with regard to the sleeping policy. She also believed that the motivation for the crackdown was to make a point to the mailroom employees about sleeping during shifts, by making an example of Plaintiff, Bagwell, and Reardon.*fn5 Management sent out a memo shortly thereafter confirming that sleeping was prohibited. Plaintiff testified that soon after the initial crackdown, however, all the Ramp employees, including those assigned to the mailroom, resumed the usual practice of sleeping on the ...


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