MONTGOMERY v. AMERICAN AIRLINES (November 19, 2010)
Anthony Montgomery has been an American Airlines employee for over 20 years, all but five months of it as a Fleet Service Clerk. It is the events of those five months, however, that matter in this case. Late in 2006, Montgomery asked for and was granted a transfer to a mechanic's position. The collective bargaining agreement required and defined a six-month probationary period, toward the end of which Montgomery would have to pass a tool inspection and qualification test. Montgomery took his test in April of 2007. Two company supervisors and a union representative were present. Montgomery failed the test and was returned to his prior position. Nearly 3 months later, Montgomery complained to American that he was subjected to racial harassment and discrimination during his probationary period. In the initial meeting with a company representative, he never stated that he had complained to his supervisors at the time. The company conducted an investigation and concluded that it could not substantiate the allegations. The results of the investigation were that the test was administered fairly, that the few employees who became mechanics without passing the test fell into different categories, and that any tension in the workplace was not based on race. Montgomery filed suit. He alleged a hostile work environment in violation of § 1981 and Title VII and racial discrimination, also in violation of § 1981 and Title VII, for his return to the clerk position. Judge Der-Yeghiayan (N.D. Ill.) granted summary judgment to American. Montgomery appeals.
In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Easterbrook and Judges Bauer and Kanne affirmed. The Court first addressed the hostile work environment claim, noting that the analysis under the two statutes is the same. The Court found triable issues of fact with respect to three of the four elements of the claim. In order to recover against an employer, however, Montgomery had to establish that American either participated in the harassment or was negligent in finding and correcting it. His only allegation of participation referred to a coworker and thus does not satisfy the participation prong. In order to satisfy the second prong, Montgomery had to establish either that he informed his supervisors of the harassment or that it was so obvious that it amounted to constructive notice. The record does not support either conclusion. The only person he reported his concerns to was his crew chief, a non-management coworker. America cannot be liable for the harassment without clear and direct reporting from the employee. Even if the harassment had been reported, the Court stated that American would have avoided liability because of its prompt and appropriate investigation. The Court turned to the discrimination claim, which Montgomery pursued under both the direct and indirect method of proof. Again, the analysis is the same under both statutes. Under the direct method, Montgomery asserted that non-African-Americans were not required to take the test. The Court rejected this as proof. Even if true, it did not allow the inference of discriminatory motive. Under the indirect method, Montgomery had to establish that similarly situated employees were treated more favorably. He alleged that three individuals became mechanics without passing the test. But the Court concluded that none of the three was similarly situated to Montgomery -- one became a mechanic before the test rule was enforced, one became a mechanic when a recalculation of his probationary time put him past the time limit for taking the test, and Montgomery presented no admissible evidence with respect to the third individual. The Court concluded that Montgomery cannot prevail on his claim that the test requirement was discriminatory. Montgomery also claimed that the test itself was discriminatory. On that claim, the Court concluded that Montgomery simply presented no evidence. Finally, although Montgomery failed to make out a prima facie case, the Court also addressed pretext. It found that American had a legitimate reason for its actions and that Montgomery provided no evidence otherwise.