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Miceli v. JetBlue Airways Corp.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 28, 2018

LAUREN MICELI
v.
JETBLUE AIRWAYS CORP. and MATHEW BOURGEOIS

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          RICHARD G. STEARNS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In December of 2015, JetBlue Airways terminated flight attendant Lauren Miceli for absenteeism.[1] Miceli alleges that the discharge was motivated by animus for her disability (post-traumatic stress disorder) and in retaliation for a claim that she filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). Discovery having been completed, defendants move for summary judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         JetBlue is a major airline operating at Boston's Logan Airport. In March of 2006, JetBlue hired Miceli as a full-time Inflight Crewmember (flight attendant) based out of Logan. On her first day of work, Miceli signed an Acknowledgement of Receipt of the Crewmember Blue Book. See Defs.' Ex. V (Dkt # 36-22). The Blue Book sets out JetBlue's employment rules and policies. The Blue Book states that employment with JetBlue is at will, Defs.' Ex. G (Dkt # 36-7) § 4.1, and includes, inter alia, an attendance policy. “While safety is our first value, JetBlue strives to be an ‘On-Time Airline.' Therefore, Crewmember attendance and punctuality is essential to ensure that JetBlue lives up to this commitment to benefit our Customers. Crewmembers are expected to arrive for work on time, fit and ready for duty.” Id. § 6.1. “Crewmembers should follow their Department's dependability guidelines when they cannot report to work. . . . Unacceptable reasons for absences, a persistent pattern of absences or an excessive amount of absences for any reasons, except for a substantiated FMLA [(Family and Medical Leave Act)] leave or other substantiated leave protected by law, may result in Progressive Guidance, up to and including termination.” Id. § 6.1.1.

         The specific dependability policy applicable to Miceli is outlined in the Inflight Blue Book Supplement. Crewmember attendance is recorded over a rolling 12-month period. Defs.' Ex. H (Dkt # 36-8) § 7.2.1. Dependability lapses - for example tardiness or an unscheduled absence - are assigned a category code and a point value. Id. §§ 7.2.3-7.2.4. A crewmember who accumulates 12 points within a 12-month period is subject to employment review (any point level greater than 4 is subject to Progressive Guidance, JetBlue's terminology for employee disciplinary action.) Id. § 7.2.5.

         By February of 2015, Miceli had accrued 7.5 dependability points and had received an Initial Progressive Guidance review from her supervisor, Tara McCarthy. In or about March of 2015, Miceli was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression/anxiety induced by a work-related ear injury suffered in 2014. Acting on the recommendation of Miceli's doctor, to accommodate Miceli's “flare-ups” and treatment, Pl.'s Ex. X (Dkt # 48-27), Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (MetLife), JetBlue's leave administrator, approved Miceli for intermittent FMLA leave of one absence of one day's duration beginning on or about March 16. Again, at the recommendation of Miceli's doctor, MetLife expanded her FMLA leave authorization to cover one five-day absence each month beginning June 18, 2015. See id.

         Between March and May of 2015, Miceli was absent from work on multiple occasions. MetLife recorded Miceli as taking approved voluntary short-term disability leave from March 3 to March 13. Defs.' Ex. D (Dkt # 36-4) at ¶ 000183. March 14 was coded as “UNA” (unavailable for assignment). Id. On March 16, Miceli was out on approved FMLA leave. She was again out between March 23 and 24 and on April 4, and these two absences were recorded as “FMLA denied - outside of parameters.” Id. The next absence, on May 18, was recorded as “FMLA denied - did not meet notification requirements.” Id.[2] Miceli missed work again on approved FMLA leave on May 22.

         On May 27 or May 28, 2015, Miceli received a Continued Progressive Guidance and met with McCarthy and Tenekka Hilliard, JetBlue's Leave Coordinator, to discuss her work attendance record. At the meeting, Miceli stated her belief that some of the absences had been miscoded, and should have been excused as FMLA leave. According to Miceli, McCarthy took an inappropriate “motherly” tone with her, Defs.' Ex. C (Dkt # 36-3) at 106-107, stating that “it [was] hard to believe” that Miceli had submitted the appropriate paperwork to MetLife, id. at 103. Hilliard advised Miceli that her absences could be retroactively recoded if she were to submit the appropriate documentation to MetLife.

         On the following day, Miceli met with Bourgeois (McCarthy's superior) to discuss her difficulty in obtaining approved FMLA leave. She also complained that McCarthy gossiped about her personal issues with her coworkers. Miceli states that she told Bourgeois that she suffered from PTSD, and that she had a panic attack during the meeting. Bourgeois concluded the meeting abruptly and asked Miceli to send him an email documenting her concerns, which she did on July 1. The email read, in part, as follows.

It is widely known at JetBlue that MetLife has been less then [sic] fair or on task with their end of the Fmla proceedings. JetBlue has had massive issues with them, and you yourself told me that they are contemplating other providers. I find it to go against the values of JetBlue with regards to how I have been treated. Caring is one of the core values of JetBlue and as an employee with a disability I feel that I have been treated poorly with regards to my situation. I accomplished each task with regards to my disability claim as well as Fmla. When I called to confirm my acceptance MetLife told me that I have been approved since March. It is not my issue that they and JetBlue have some sort of miscommunication or technology disruption whereas it causes it to look denied or incomplete. I am a flight attendant with no access to your or their system. That is out of my hands. However the behavior exhibited by my team leader and those who chose to be involved was unprofessional and I find it disheartening when all are aware that we are dealing with a disability and when the caring value is needed most. I now feel uncomfortable, my character compromised as well as my privacy and this is very challenging for me to deal with.

Defs.' Ex O (Dkt # 36-15).

         On July 10, 2015, Noreen Dowd, a member of JetBlue's People Resources Team, sent Miceli an email, explaining MetLife's reason for denying her certain absences.

We spoke with MetLife in regards to the dates that were showing as "denied" in the system. You advised that your doctor was sending in additional certification paperwork to MetLife in order to change your parameters (frequency and duration) which were 1 per month for 1 day. MetLife has received the updated paperwork and your new parameters (frequency and duration) are 1 per month for up to 5 days. However, the dates on the paperwork are from 6/18/15 to 12/17/15. Therefore, the dates prior to that (3/23, 3/24, 4/4, & 5/18) are still "denied" by MetLife and will remain coded as UNA.

Defs.' Ex K (Dkt # 36-11). In June and July of 2015, MetLife recorded Miceli as having been absent on June 11 (“FMLA Approved”), June 26 to June 28 (“FMLA Approved”), July 8 to July 10 (“UNA”), July 17 (“FMLA Approved”), July 29 to July 30 (“FMLA Approved”). Defs.' Ex. D at ¶ 000183. On July 17, having reviewed ...


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