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Rodriguez v. Jetblue Airways Corp.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 18, 2014

ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ,
v.
JETBLUE AIRWAYS CORP.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

RICHARD G. STEARNS, District Judge.

Roberto Rodriguez, [1] a Boston-based flight attendant terminated by JetBlue Airways Corp. (JetBlue) in October of 2011, brought this suit against JetBlue alleging (1) disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B, (2) discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq., and (3) common-law breach of implied contract.[2] JetBlue now moves for summary judgment on all claims, alleging that it terminated Rodriguez "in connection with JetBlue's legitimate, non-discriminatory understanding that [Rodriguez] failed a reasonable suspicion' Breathalyzer test for alcohol use on October 13, 2011, in violation of JetBlue policies, as well as Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations." Def.'s Mem. (Dkt. # 54) at 9.

BACKGROUND

The plausible facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Rodriguez as the non-moving party, are as follows. Roberto Rodriguez is a thirty-two year old male who was diagnosed with epilepsy at age fourteen. Rodriguez was employed by JetBlue as a "full-time Inflight Crewmember" (flight attendant) from January 7, 2009 to October 31, 2011. On the morning of October 13, 2011, Rodriguez was scheduled to crew a flight from New York to Boston, departing from John F. Kennedy Airport at 7:23 a.m. Rodriguez and the other assigned crewmembers (S.M. and M.M.) were expected to report to work at around 6:45 a.m. The three crewmembers overnighted at a hotel in the borough of Queens. At 7:00 a.m. on October 13, 2011, Rodriguez telephoned JetBlue crew services to report that he and S.M. had been delayed, having not received a requested 5:30 a.m. wake-up call from the hotel concierge. Rodriguez and S.M. took a taxi to the airport, arriving at their assigned aircraft at 7:15 a.m. M.M., the other assigned crewmember, was already on board along with Awilda Ayala, an "inflight team leader, " and David Rodriguez, [3] another crewmember and "inflight supervisor." Ayala and David R. had boarded the plane to prepare for preboarding in Rodriguez and S.M.'s absence.

Rodriguez boarded the plane, stowed his personal luggage, apologized for being late, and thanked David R. for starting the boarding process. Rodriguez then began to perform crew duties at the back of the aircraft. Meanwhile, Ayala interacted with S.M., whose demeanor she found odd and evasive. Ayala smelled alcohol on S.M.'s breath and texted David R. (who was in the back of the plane with Rodriguez), "David, her breath, come to the front." Ayala Dep. (Dkt. # 65[4] David R. responded, and after speaking with S.M., decided with Ayala to order Rodriguez and S.M. off the plane and have them tested for alcohol. Ayala, David R., Rodriguez, and S.M. exited the plane around 7:30 a.m. and waited in the employee lounge for Ahmed Malik, a JetBlue Breathalyzer technician, to arrive. David R. called Michael Roldan, an "Inflight Duty Lead" at JetBlue, to report the situation.[5]

DISPUTED FACTS REGARDING THE BREATHALYZER TEST

Rodriguez's Account

According to Rodriguez, as he and S.M. exited the plane, Ayala and David R. attempted to take their bags. Rodriguez objected, explaining that he needed his medication. Rodriguez was permitted to keep his bag, see Rodriguez Dep. (Dkt. # 62-3) 62:21-24, but some point "was informed by [David R. and Ayala] that they would not allow [him] to eat or drink anything until [Malik] arrived." Rodriguez Aff. (Dkt. # 62-2) ¶ 30. Rodriguez said that he had to "take his medication soon and required water to do so, " but David R. and Ayala "continued to refuse [him] water and permit [him] to take [his] medicine." Id. ¶ 31-33. Rodriguez "repeatedly pled with [David R. and Ayala] to permit [him] to take [his] medicine because he was epileptic and could not miss a dosage." Id. ¶ 34. Rodriguez began experiencing ringing in his ears and dizziness and told Ayala that he was not feeling well. Malik (the Breathalyzer technician) eventually arrived, and S.M. was the first to be tested. Her initial test was positive. Ayala left the lounge to call airport security out of concern for S.M.'s negative reaction to the test results (she was allegedly berating Ayala). Fifteen minutes later, S.M. failed a confirmation test. Rodriguez was then instructed to report to Malik to be tested. Rodriguez states that he recalls walking into the testing room, where he lost control of his body and collapsed. Rodriguez states that he has "no recollection of ever taking a breathalyzer test or signing any document to agree to a breathalyzer test." Rodriguez Aff. ¶ 43.[6] He revived and was eventually taken to Jamaica Hospital by emergency paramedics.

JetBlue's Account Ayala and David R. state that they accommodated Rodriguez's

request to keep his bag and did not prevent him from taking his medication.[7] According to JetBlue, Rodriguez took a Breathalyzer test at 8:48 a.m. as reflected in a Breathalyzer "test result printout" attached to an Alcohol Testing Form (ATF).[8] The ATF records a test on October 13, 2011, at 08:49 a.m., with a blood alcohol result of.048. See Dkt. # 58-19. The form contains the signature of a "Roberto Rodriguez" under the statement "I certify that I am about to submit to alcohol testing...." Id. [9] A second signature line at the bottom of the ATF (to be completed by the employee if the blood alcohol result is.02 or higher) is blank. The "remarks" section of the form, filled out and signed by Malik, states: "Employee refuses to sign screen test results. Employee also refused to complete confirmation test." Id. [10]

POST-INCIDENT EVENTS

The following facts are not in dispute. David R. accompanied Rodriguez and the paramedics to the emergency room at Jamaica Hospital. After Rodriguez was discharged, he and David R. returned to the JFK crew lounge, where an unnamed supervisor presented Rodriguez with a "guidance report form" confirming that he had failed the first Breathalyzer test and had refused to take a confirmation test. Rodriguez states that he did not believe the information in the guidance report was accurate, and therefore refused to sign it.[11]

JetBlue's Termination of Rodriguez

On October 13, 2011, the following note was entered in Rodriguez's JetBlue personnel file (PF): "Roberto was late to his aircraft today and was tested for alcohol use under reasonable suspension (sic to his first test and refused a confirmatory test. He been (sic) removed RPI pending a termination recommendation. See attached message files for details." PF (Dkt. # 62-1) at 32.[12] On October 14, 2011, Anthony Rios, Rodriguez's supervisor at Logan Airport, requested confirmation of Rodriguez's (and S.M.'s) positive test results from Stacy Greenfield. Rios explained that he required confirmation of the positive test "for the termination recommendations." Id. On October 17, 2011, Greenfield responded, confirming that "[S.M.] and [Rodriguez] had positive alcohol tests (reasonable suspicion) on October 13, 2011." Id. at 38. On October 25, 2014, in an email captioned "Robert Rodriguez #83114 - Termination, " Greenfield wrote, "I have reviewed all of the required paperwork regarding Inflight Crewmember Roberto Rodriguez DOT Reasonable Suspicion Refusal.' Roberto's initial DOT test was positive; he refused to take the confirmation test. In accordance with JetBlue Airways' zero tolerance policy, please proceed with termination." Id. at 39. The next entry in the PF is a "Termination Review Package Checklist." See id. at 40. It notes the reason for termination as a "violation of company policy." Id. A "Termination Recommendation" (undated) describes the "trigger incident" for termination as follows: "On October ...


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