United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division, Lafayette
OPINION AND ORDER
JON E. DEGUILIO, District Judge.
Now before the Court is Defendant Republic Airlines, Inc.'s motion for reconsideration [DE 66] of the Court's order denying summary judgment [DE 63]. The motion for reconsideration has been fully briefed [DE 67; DE 74; DE 75]. Republic believes the Court inappropriately accepted certain facts as true, thereby resulting in its erroneously denying summary judgment on Plaintiff Anthony Felice's complaint which asserted Title VII claims of sex and race discrimination resulting in his forced resignation [DE 1]. For the following reasons, Republic's request for reconsideration [DE 66] is DENIED.
Standard of Review
While Republic's counsel did not indicate which rule his motion is brought pursuant to, the Court invokes Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) which provides the Court with the inherent power to reconsider non-final orders, as justice requires, before entry of judgment. See Lockhart v. ExamOne World Wide, Inc., 904 F.Supp.2d 928, 951 (S.D. Ind. 2012); Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. v. Granite Broadcasting Corp., No. 1:11-CV-249, 2012 WL 4794380, *1 (N.D. Ind. Oct. 9, 2012). Ultimately, motions for reconsideration serve a limited function; to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence. Id .; see also Tecnomatic, S.P.A. v. Remy, Inc., No. 1-11-cv-00991-SEB-MJD, 2013 WL 3188814, *2 (S.D. Ind. June 20, 2013). It is well-settled that a motion to reconsider is not properly utilized to advance arguments or theories that could and should have been made before the district court rendered a judgment. Id .; see also Fannon v. Guidant Corp., 583 F.3d 995, 1003 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Sigsworth v. City of Aurora, Ill., 487 F.3d 506, 512 (7th Cir. 2007)).
Republic does not suggest that it has newly discovered evidence upon which its motion rests. Rather, Republic contends that the Court committed error in the following ways: (1) by accepting that Felice was terminated for failing to follow company policies and procedures during and after Flight 3421, rather than accepting Republic's added assertion that Felice was terminated for his potential inability to perform the job safely; (2) by finding sufficient evidence of pretext despite the fact that Jeff Davis's reason for terminating Felice was because Felice's actions presented a safety risk to the aircraft and the passengers of Flight 3421; and (3) by failing to exclude comparator evidence which was based on documents that Felice did not produce and which were union records rather than business records of Republic.
For the reasons that follow, Republic's motion is not supported by any circumstance making summary judgment appropriate on reconsideration and the instant case does not involve a manifest error of law or fact.
The Court incorporates by reference the extensive factual background concerning Felice's piloting of Flight 3421 on behalf of Republic on February 16, 2008, as set forth in its previous summary judgment order [DE 63 at 1-9], except with respect to the particular facts which Republic takes exception with in its motion for reconsideration. The Court considers these facts in turn.
Reason for Felice's Termination, Satisfactory Performance, & Evidence of Pretext
Republic contends that the Court erroneously accepted as undisputed the fact that Felice was terminated for failing to follow company policies and procedures during and after Flight 3421, rather than accepting Republic's assertion that Felice was terminated for failing to follow company policies and procedures which indicated Felice's potential inability to perform the job safely. However, as further detailed below, Republic is mistaken because the Court did consider Republic's reason for terminating Felice by specifically stating "although the Court does not second-guess facially legitimate business decisions, the decision here [to terminate] appears not so legitimate where Felice has pointed to specific facts placing Republic's explanation in doubt... [and as such] the record does not support Republic's contention that Felice's behavior indicated his inability to perform his job safely" [DE 63 at 20] (citing Culver v. Gorman & Co., 416 F.3d 540, 547 (7th Cir. 2005) ("Summary judgment is appropriate only if a reasonable fact finder would be compelled to believe [the employer's] explanation, and [plaintiff] can avoid summary judgment by pointing to specific facts that place the employer's explanation in doubt.") (internal citation and citation omitted)).
The facts supporting the basis for Felice's termination reveal that in responding to the complaint, Republic admitted that "on March 5, 2008, Republic requested that Felice resign or face termination due to his violations of Republic's policies and procedures as pilot of Republic Airlines Flight 3421, on February 16, 2008, and due to his failure to timely report that he had declared an emergency aboard Flight 3421." [DE 10 at 7, ¶ 23]. In support of its summary judgment motion, Republic filed Jeff Davis's March 9, 2009 affidavit similarly admitting that "Republic Airlines requested that Felice resign due to his violations of Company policy and procedure as pilot of Republic Airlines Flight 3421, on February 16, 2008, and due to his failure to timely report that he had declared an emergency aboard Flight 3421." [DE 58-3 at 3, ¶ 17]. Davis's affidavit did not identify a particular policy allegedly violated by Felice. Thereafter, on June 22, 2012, some three years later, Davis signed another affidavit noting that "Republic terminated (or requested resignations from) eight (8) Captains or First Officers (including Felice) who, like Felice, were involved in incidents that, from Republic's perspective, indicated a potential inability to perform their job duties safely." [DE 58-2 at 2 ¶ 3] (emphasis added). While the second affidavit identified the incidents that the other pilots were involved in, see infra at 7, Jeffrey Davis did not specify what the precise "incident" was that indicated Felice's inability to safely perform his job. Id. Nor does Republic explain why now characterizing the alleged violations as safety concerns impacts the analysis or result. In addition, Republic admittedly never provided Felice a written statement of the precise charges against him which ultimately resulted in his termination [DE 62-1 at 4-5], nor has Republic explained why certain policy violations would have put the passengers and flight at risk.
Despite the ambiguous subsequent basis offered by Republic for Felice's termination-that is, Felice's evidencing a potential inability to perform his job safely-the Court considered this reason when denying Republic's summary judgment request. While the Court will not reiterate its entire holding, in determining that Felice had met the prima facie case and had raised disputed issues of material fact concerning his satisfactory job performance, the Court held that the company policies reportedly violated by Felice (thereby allegedly evidencing his failure to safely perform his job) was a matter of dispute; even assuming Felice did not timely file an irregularity report or report his diversion or fuel emergency to dispatch-these violations constituted mere reporting violations; and ultimately, a reasonable fact finder would not be compelled to believe that Felice's conduct revealed an inability to perform his job safely thereby warranting termination where similarly situated non-Caucasian or female pilots were not terminated for more egregious or similar offenses [DE 63 at 18-20, 22-23]. The Court considered Republic's stated basis for terminating Felice and found summary judgment inappropriate. While Republic may disagree with the Court's conclusion, the Court certainly did not omit from its consideration Republic's stated basis for its employment decision, including its characterization that Felice's conduct was unsafe. And as next addressed, Felice has raised an issue of material fact concerning whether Republic's reason for termination was pretext for discrimination, and therefore summary judgment is not proper.
Republic's related contention, that the Court erred by finding evidence of pretext, is also without merit. Republic believes that the Court should have accepted without contravention Jeff Davis's reason for terminating Felice, in that Felice's actions in violating company policies presented a safety risk to the aircraft and the passengers of Flight 3421. However, Republic's position essentially turns the summary judgment standard on its head, by requiring the Court to view the facts in its favor and ignore evidence which called into question whether Felice was unsatisfactorily performing his job as alleged by Republic and whether Davis honestly believed his stated basis for terminating Felice.
To recap, the Court determined that when construing the facts in Felice's favor it was evident that upon passing over Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Felice had considered the amount of fuel that remained in the aircraft and reported his fuel levels to dispatch. Felice also considered the amount of fuel he thought would remain in the aircraft upon landing in Austin, Texas (AUS), his original "filed alternate, " where he had chosen to land-a decision which was within his authority and did not require an amended release. Ultimately, it was dispatch who never confirmed Felice's actual fuel burn levels, despite its responsibility to do so. In addition, Felice was never told that he had inadequate fuel to make it to AUS after notifying dispatch he was heading there, and Felice was not given sufficient time or information concerning the use of alternative airports for landing. After having to avoid inclement weather and burn more fuel on his way to AUS, Felice believed he would land with less than 2, 000 pounds of fuel and therefore declared a "fuel emergency" in accordance with Republic's policy. Felice actually landed safely with 25% more fuel than ...