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Styers v. Waggoner

June 26, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William W. Caldwell United States District Judge


I. Introduction

We are considering the defendants' motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff, Gregory Styers, a trooper with the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP), was a "Pilot in Command" (PIC) in Aviation Patrol Unit III (APUIII). He piloted a helicopter. In 2001, he was transferred. Plaintiff successfully grieved the transfer, and the arbitrator ordered that he be returned to the unit and "made whole." Styers returned to the unit in September 2003, but did not become a PIC again, before transferring out in April 2004.

Plaintiff filed this action alleging that upon his return to the unit, the defendants retaliated against him for the exercise of his First Amendment right to grieve his transfer and for raising certain concerns he had about the helicopters in service at the unit. The defendants are Bret Waggoner, at the time PSP's aviation section commander, in charge of all aviation units statewide; James Garofalo, a PSP captain; Richard Zenk, a PSP major; and David Guido, a PSP sergeant and helicopter pilot at APU


The retaliatory conduct allegedly consisted of: (1) imposing an unnecessary requirement that Plaintiff have 150 hours of helicopter retraining before regaining his PIC status; (2) refusing him the opportunity to get the 150 hours of retraining; (3) disciplining him for attending a preliminary hearing in his dress uniform; (4) forcing him to wait for a properly fitting flight helmet; and (5) making it difficult to get a replacement clip for his gun. Plaintiff also refers to this conduct as a hostile work environment or as a hostile and unsafe environment.

We will examine the summary-judgment motion under the well established standard. See Andreoli v. Gates, 482 F.3d 641, 647 (3d Cir. 2007). We will thus "view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor." Id. (quoted case omitted).

II. Background

For the most part, we take this background from Defendants' statement of material facts, tracking the statements closely and sometimes making unattributed quotations from Defendants' language, since Plaintiff agrees with most of the statements. But in keeping with our obligation on summary judgment, we will rely on Plaintiff's version of events where appropriate.

A. Restoring Plaintiff to PIC Status

APU III is part of the Bureau of Emergency and Special Operations (BESO) of the Pennsylvania State Police. There are seven APUs. Plaintiff was a PIC in APU III. Transferred out in 2001, he contested the transfer by filing a grievance.

In July 2003, APU III purchased two Agusta A119 helicopters. Before the Agusta helicopter, the primary aircraft for APU III was a Bell Long Ranger, which Styers was qualified to fly. Because the Agusta helicopters had just been purchased, none of the pilots, some of them PIC, had experience with them in July 2003, and they were trained in them at that time.

In September 2003, after an absence of three years, Styers returned to APU III after winning his grievance. Guido told him that he did not agree with the arbitrator's decision but as part of the arbitration award, recognized that Styers was "to be made whole" by the State Police upon his return. According to Guido, he attempted to do that.

Styers had no experience with the Agusta. Defendant Guido talked with Lt. Gerald Reed, the head of PSP's Safety and Training unit at the time, about the training Styers should receive so that he could be a PIC again, a pilot qualified to fly an aircraft solo. As the head of the Safety and Training unit, Reed had the authority to decide how many in-flight training hours Styers would be required to have. According to defendant Guido, there were no regulations or standards for a pilot who had been away for so long, and they discussed a need to develop a plan for Styers's return. Guido recommended that Styers be trained as if he were a new pilot because they were using a new helicopter and because he had been away for three years. Guido testified that his recommendation was based in part on a prior incident when a pilot who had returned after a prolonged absence did not receive sufficient retraining and almost had a serious accident.

For a pilot with previous turbine-helicopter experience the required training time is 150 hours; for a pilot with no prior turbine-helicopter experience the minimum is 250 hours. Because Guido knew that Styers had 100 turbine-helicopter hours from his previous time in the aviation section, he felt the safest course of action was to recommend that Styers have 150 hours.

There was another procedure for restoring a pilot to PIC status. Sometimes a pilot has not flown a helicopter for thirty days or more; it could have been because of illness or vacation. When that happens, the pilot is given a "recurrency flight" with a check pilot. It takes about two to five hours and involves an oral and in-flight evaluation.

There was no specific training schedule for Styers to train in the Agusta. Instead, Guido assigned shifts for the operation of the Agusta. The Bell Long Ranger helicopter became the spare that all of the APUs could use. It was available at times to APU III, but according to defendant Waggoner, PSP's aviation section commander, it was not practical to have Styers get his 150-hour flight training on the Bell because the Agusta was the primary aircraft used for missions at APU III and, as noted, the Bell Long Ranger was a spare aircraft to be used by all of the APUs. According to Styers, he was denied flight training on the Bell.

Styers had to train with Guido. According to Waggoner, this was done because Trooper Paden, the other pilot at APU III who could provide such training, was training with another pilot, and because Styers had to learn how to work with Guido in the cockpit, APU III being a small unit.

From September 13, 2003, until January 9, 2004, Styers did not have any hours of flight time with Guido. According to defendants, this was because Styers had taken days off, had taken other training, and because the aircraft was in maintenance. According to Plaintiff, he had no flight time during this period because Guido would not give him the hours. ...

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