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Martsolf v. United Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 14, 2015



CYNTHIA REED EDDY, Magistrate Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Delilah Martsolf initiated this action against Defendant United Airlines, Inc. ("United"), asserting violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. ยง 12101, et. seq. ("ADA"). Martsolf alleges to be an individual having a disability within the meaning of the ADA; that is, significant hearing loss that affects her ability to speak. She claims that while working at United, she was subjected to a hostile work environment and was discharged because of her alleged difficulties with hearing and speaking.[1] (Compl., ECF No. 1). Pending before the court is United's motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 38). For the reasons that follow, United's motion will be denied.[2]

II. Relevant Facts

A. Background

Unless otherwise indicated, the following facts are undisputed. Martsolf worked for United at the Pittsburgh International Airport for approximately five months from October 31, 2011 until April 11, 2012. She was interviewed for the position by United's general manager at the Pittsburgh station, Mel Johnson, and his administrative assistant, Joanne Triplett. After the interview, Johnson made the decision to hire Martsolf for an administrative support position. Triplett and Martsolf held similar positions, and they shared an office. Johnson was Martsolf's immediate supervisor.

In addition to Johnson, Jeff Arnold and John Gallahan were supervisors at United's Pittsburgh station during Martsolf's employment. Arnold was a supervisor of airport operations. Gallahan was supervisor over customer service. United asserts that Arnold and Gallahan had minimal interaction with Martsolf, as she did not work directly for either of them. However, Martsolf claims that because she worked in a non-supervisory clerical position, she was under the supervision of all of the supervisors at United, including Arnold and Gallahan. In support, Martsolf points to her deposition in which she testified that Johnson, her immediate supervisor, specifically told her she was also to report to Arnold and Gallahan. (Martsolf Dep., ECF No. 41-2 at 15).

At United, Martsolf's job responsibilities included payroll. In this role she was responsible for accurately entering employee data relating to the number of regular and overtime hours worked into the company system known as the "MARS system." Once this data was entered into the MARS system, the system would generate "paycerts, " which showed the number of employee hours worked that were entered into the system for the applicable pay period. Employee paychecks were based on the hours reflected on the paycerts. Martsolf was then responsible for printing the paycerts and placing them in the employee mailboxes. The purpose of this was to allow the employees to verify that the amount of pay logged in the system was accurate. If the amount was not accurate, the employees were to ask Martsolf to make any necessary corrections in the system.

Additionally, Martsolf was a deposit-preparer for United. In this role, she was responsible for counting money that was to be put into the safe, and preparing certain forms and deposit slips for company funds that were to be deposited into the bank. Martsolf received training from Darin Larson regarding her payroll responsibilities and Judy Murphy regarding the deposit-preparer responsibilities. Martsolf would occasionally call Larson and Murphy with questions regarding various aspects of these job functions.

B. Martsolf's Job Performance

The parties disagree as to whether Martsolf exhibited performance deficiencies in the above roles. United claims that during Martsolf's employment with the company, she failed on several occasions to put paycerts in employee mailboxes. In turn, this caused employees to complain to Johnson and Triplett about not receiving their paycerts. Additionally, on one occasion, United claims that Johnson had to personally print and place the paycerts in the employee mailboxes because Martsolf had failed to do so. Pointing to deposition testimony from Triplett, United further claims that on several occasions Martsolf had improperly entered the amount of hours that United employees worked into the MARS system, resulting in the paychecks containing the incorrect amount or being distributed to employees late.

Specifically, for the pay period ending February 11, 2012, United contends that more than thirty (30) employees were not paid the correct amount because Martsolf never placed the paycerts in the employee mailboxes. Although there was an apparent malfunction with the MARS system on that particular occasion, United asserts that if Martsolf had delivered the paycerts into the mailboxes, the employees would have discovered the mistake and the problem would have been avoided altogether.

According to United, Martsolf also made errors in her role relating to completing forms associated with bank deposits. United claims that on March 14, 2012, Martsolf failed to complete an 202A deposit form. Additionally, on March 19, 2012, Martsolf used an incorrect deposit slip, which resulted in freight money being deposited into an account in the wrong bank.

Johnson issued Martsolf a letter of concern on March 20, 2012. This letter stated that Johnson and Martsolf met on March 5, 2012 regarding Martsolf's station responsibilities and stated that on March 14, 2012 Martsolf failed to complete the 202A deposit form. The letter also stated: "Make sure you provide all employees a copy of their paycerts on a weekly basis to avoid errors. Several weeks ago we had numerous pay issues and if the employees had a copy of their paycerts this would have been brought to our attention." (ECF No. 40-1 at 56).

On March 30, 2012, Johnson consulted with a representative of United's Human Resources ("H.R.") department, Ed Eget. Johnson sent Eget an e-mail stating in part that Martsolf "is not able to grasp what is required and is not able to finish her work on a consistent basis." (ECF No. 40-1 at 132). Johnson outlined several conversations that he had with Martsolf regarding her job responsibilities, including the alleged issues with paycerts. Additionally, Johnson stated that Martsolf had recently began calling him "sir" in a tone which he believed was clearly sarcastic. Johnson indicated that Martsolf continued to call him "sir" after he had asked her to stop. Ultimately, he suggested that Martsolf's employment with United be terminated. Also on that date, upon Johnson's request, Gallahan completed a memo evaluating Martsolf's job performance based upon their interactions at work. ( Id. at 189). Gallahan noted, inter alia, that Martsolf recently began referring to "all of us as sir, '" which he too felt was sarcastic. ( Id. at 189).

Johnson obtained approval from Eget to terminate Martsolf. On April 11, 2012, Johnson met with Martsolf, handed her a termination letter, and notified her that her employment with United was terminated. (ECF No. 40-1 at 57). The termination letter stated the following:

You were hired as a Station Coordinator Airport Operations Support in Pittsburgh and were given collaterals within your role to support the stations. I have spoken with you on numerous occasions in relation to your job performance.
I informed you to put employee's paycerts in their mailboxes on 11/28/11, 12/30/11 and 1/4/12. I verified this was not done on a consistent basis.
On 3/20/2012, you were given a Letter of Concern for failing to complete a 202A form, during this meeting you were asked if you understood your responsibilities and you said, yes.
On 3/19/2012 you prepared deposits for freight and used the wrong deposit slip therefore the money went to the wrong account.
There have been numerous occasions when you have spoken to team members in an unprofessional manor [sic] which doesn't promote United Working Together Guidelines.
Delilah, due to your poor job performance it is my decision to terminate your employment with United Airlines effective immediately
Mel Johnson - GM Pittsburgh

( Id. ). In his deposition, Johnson testified that it was his honest belief that Martsolf exhibited the above performance deficiencies. (Johnson Dep., ECF No. 40-1 at 129).

Martsolf disputes, however, that the above reasons offered by Johnson were in fact the real basis for her termination. Initially, Martsolf disputes that she ever failed to put paycerts in employee mailboxes. (Martsolf Dep., ECF No. 41-2 at 16, 19).[3] Martsolf further asserts that she was wrongfully blamed for the incident regarding the A202A Form. (ECF No. 41-6). According to Martsolf, that form was not completed because Triplett failed to do so, and Martsolf advised Johnson of this. (ECF No. 41-6). Regarding the statement that Martsolf spoke to team members unprofessionally, she acknowledges that Johnson asked her to stop calling him "sir, " but denies ever talking to any co-workers or supervisors unprofessionally. (Martsolf Dep. at 18, 19). Martsolf does, however, admit that she improperly used the wrong deposit slip causing the money to be deposited into the wrong account. Nonetheless, she contends that this error was minor because it was quickly discovered and corrected without any real issue. Thus, Martsolf submits that the above purported performance deficiencies were not the real basis for her termination. Rather, as discussed below, Martsolf maintains that she was fired because of discriminatory animus relating to her alleged disability as to hearing and speech.

C. Knowledge of Martsolf's Disability

United asserts that Johnson, Arnold, Gallahan, and Triplett did not know that Martsolf had a disability with respect to hearing and speaking. Martsolf counters that during the job interview she specifically told Johnson and Triplett that she had trouble hearing, and asked them to look at her when they spoke so that she could read their lips. (Martsolf Dep. at 9, 23, 30). She also submits that each of these individuals knew of her disability because ...

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