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Lee v. Delta Air Lines, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 5, 2014

MICHAEL K. LEE, Plaintiff,
v.
DELTA AIR LINES, INC., Defendant

For MICHAEL K. LEE, Plaintiff: Joshua M. Bloom, LEAD ATTORNEY, Joshua M. Bloom, P.C., Pittsburgh, PA; Tiffany R. Waskowicz, Joshua M. Bloom & Associates, Pittsburgh, PA.

For DELTA AIR LINES, INC., Defendant: Joseph F. McDonough, LEAD ATTORNEY, Christian Antkowiak, Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Page 672

MEMORANDUM OPINION

David Stewart Cercone, United States District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff, Michael K. Lee (" Lee" or " Plaintiff" ) filed an Amended Complaint alleging racial discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1866, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 et seq. and the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act, 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 951 et seq. (the " PHRA" ), against Defendant, Delta Airlines, Inc. (" Delta" or " Defendant" ). Delta filed a motion for summary judgment, Lee has responded and the motion is now before the Court.

II. Statement of the Case

Delta, an airline carrier located in Atlanta, Georgia, offers a frequent flyer program to its customers known as the SkyMiles Frequent Flyer Program (" SkyMiles" ). Amended Complaint (" Am. Cmplnt." ) ¶ 6; Defendant's Statement of Material Undisputed Fact (" Def. SMUF" ) ¶ 3. Lee, an adult African-American, achieved Platinum Medallion priority status under Delta's SkyMiles program on or about September 5, 2011. Def. SMUF ¶ 1. Subject to the terms and conditions of the SkyMiles program, and based upon his Platinum status, Lee enjoyed, inter alia, the following benefits: (1) priority check-in; (2) priority boarding; and (3) expedited baggage service. Def. SMUF ¶ 4; Plaintiff's Response to Statement of Undisputed Facts (" Pl. SUF" ) ¶ 4 and Exhibits 5 and 7.

On May 24, 2012, Lee was travelling from Pittsburgh to Atlanta on Delta flight DL 2065 with Shay Mooney (" Mooney" ), a Caucasian business companion. Def. SMUF ¶ ¶ 9 & 10. Lee and Mooney arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport and proceeded to the Delta self-serve check-in kiosk, where Lee checked in for himself and Mooney. Def. SMUF ¶ ¶ 11 & 12. The Delta ticket check-in area that morning consisted of a combined Special Services/Sky Priority line and a general ticketing line, separated by a series of self-serve check-in kiosks. Def. SMUF ¶ ¶ 5 & 6. There was also a baggage drop line for SkyMiles priority members, which was roped off. Pl. SUF ¶ 5.

Lee's luggage consisted of a book bag and a large duffel bag, while Mooney carried a small roll carry-on and a guitar in a hard case. Def. SMUF ¶ ¶ 16 & 17. Lee checked in Mooney's guitar under Lee's name with the intention of checking Mooney's guitar with Lee's duffle bag at the Delta ticketing counter. Def. SMUF ¶ 18. Lee checked in at the kiosk at 4:43 a.m.,

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and checked in on behalf of Mooney at 4:44 a.m. Def. SMUF ¶ ¶ 13 & 14. Lee and Mooney then entered the Special Services/Sky Priority line, where they stood behind a group of travelers whom Lee believed to be a family of between two (2) and four (4) individuals. Def. SMUF ¶ ¶ 19 & 20.

The family was traveling internationally and was in need of special services as there was a ticketing issue that was going to take some time to resolve. Def. SMUF ¶ 24. Another Caucasian male entered the Special Services/Sky Priority line behind Lee and Mooney. Def. SMUF ¶ 26. After waiting in the Special Services/Sky Priority line for about a minute and a half, Mooney tapped Lee on the shoulder and said, " I think she's talking to you." Lee Deposition (" Lee Depo." ), p. 27, ln. 7-15. Delta agent, Carrie Palmer (" Palmer" ), who was assigned to the kiosk area that morning, was aware of the family with the ticketing issue and asked Lee, " Are you checking a bag?" Def. SMUF ¶ ¶ 26 & 40; Lee Depo. p. 27, ln. 16-17. Lee replied in the affirmative and Palmer said, " Well, you can come over here" , and gestured to the general ticketing line. Def. SMUF ¶ ¶ 35, 36 & 37; Lee Depo. p. 27, ln. 18-19. Lee did not object or tell Palmer that he was a Platinum Medallion SkyMiles member, he simply responded, " Okay" , and he and Mooney walked over to the general ticketing line. Def. SMUF ¶ 39. Lee testified that upon entering the general ticketing line, there were four or five people in front of him, however, he has no knowledge whether or not those individuals were SkyMiles members. Def. SMUF ¶ ¶ 45 & 46.

While standing in the general ticketing line, Lee observed Palmer interact with a Caucasian male at the check-in kiosk and then escort him to the front of the general ticketing line. Def. SMUF ¶ ¶ 51 & 52. Immediately thereafter, Lee dropped his bags with Delta desk agent Cheryl McKeever (" McKeever" ). Def. SMUF ¶ ¶ 55 & 56. Lee asked McKeever, " What is that about?" referring to the Caucasian male, and McKeever stated, " He's Diamond," referring to his status as a Diamond Medallion SkyMiles member. Def. SMUF ¶ ¶ 57 & 58. Lee then informed McKeever that he was Platinum Medallion SkyMiles member. Def. SMUF ¶ 59. Lee dropped his bags at the counter at 4:49 a.m., and noticed that the Caucasian male that had been behind him in the Special Services/Sky Priority line, was still standing at the front of the line awaiting his turn with a Delta desk agent. Def. SMUF ¶ ¶ 61 & 62.

III. Legal Standard for Summary Judgment

Pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment shall be granted when there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. To support denial of summary judgment, an issue of fact in dispute must be both genuine and material, i.e., one upon which a reasonable fact finder could base a verdict for the non-moving party and one which is essential to establishing the claim. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court is not permitted to weigh the evidence or to make credibility determinations, but is limited to deciding whether there are any disputed issues and, if there are, whether they are both genuine and material. Id. The court's consideration of the facts ...


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