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Achique Coyaso v. Bradley Pacific Aviation

May 3, 2012

ACHIQUE COYASO,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
BRADLEY PACIFIC AVIATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Michael Seabright United States District Judge

ORDER

(1) GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANT BRADLEY PACIFIC AVIATION, INC.'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; AND

(2) DECLINING JURISDICTION INC., OVER REMAINING STATE LAW CLAIM

ORDER (1) GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANT BRADLEY PACIFIC AVIATION, INC.'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; AND

(2) DECLINING JURISDICTION OVER REMAINING STATE LAW CLAIM

I. INTRODUCTION

On April 21, 2011, Plaintiff Achique Coyaso ("Plaintiff") filed this action alleging that his termination from Defendant Bradley Pacific Aviation, Inc. ("Defendant") violated (1) the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (the "USERRA"), 38 U.S.C. § 4311 et seq.; (2) Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.;

(3) Hawaii's anti-discrimination statute, Hawaii Revised Statutes ("HRS") § 378-2; and (4) the Hawaii Whistleblower's Protection Act (the "HWPA"), HRS § 378-61.

Currently before the court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing, among other things, that Plaintiff's USERRA and Title VII claims fail because Defendant legitimately terminated Plaintiff for violating Defendant's workplace policies based upon his involvement in a violent altercation with a woman twenty feet from Defendant's office. Based on the following, the court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff's USERRA, Title VII, and HRS § 378-2 claims, and declines jurisdiction over Plaintiff's remaining state law claim.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

Defendant is in the business of refueling aircrafts at airports in Hawaii. Doc. No. 54, Def.'s Concise Statement of Facts ("CSF") ¶ 1.*fn1 Plaintiff worked for Defendant as a refueler at Lihue International Airport from October 9, 2008 through January 18, 2011, id. ¶¶ 1-2, with a break from September 9, 2009 through August 2010 when Plaintiff was deployed to Kuwait with the United States Army. Plaintiff's pre-deployment employment was not without controversy -- Plaintiff was repeatedly counseled and disciplined for violations of Defendant's policies, id. ¶ 3, and was also involved in a number of events that form the basis of his claims against Defendant. Plaintiff was ultimately terminated after he returned from his deployment and was involved in a violent altercation with a woman near Defendant's workplace. The court outlines these events as follows:

1. Events Prior to Plaintiff's Deployment

On March 15, 2009, Plaintiff applied for the position of Operations Supervisor. Doc. No. 64-2, Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 16; Doc. No. 64-9, Pl.'s Ex. 6 (application). After applying for this position, Defendant's Honolulu office pulled Plaintiff's time-keeping records, which resulted in Plaintiff receiving a March 29, 2009 written warning for excessive tardiness. Doc. No. 64-2, Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 17; Doc. No. 64-10, Pl.'s Ex. 7. In a written response to the warning, Plaintiff explained that although he always notified his fellow employees when he is running late to work, he agreed that his attendance is unsatisfactory and that he "will take corrective actions to fix these shortcomings to prevent any future downfalls." Doc. No. 64-10, Pl.'s Ex. 7.

On April 13, 2009, Plaintiff learned that Kevin Reis, a Caucasian, was selected for the Operations Supervisor position. Doc. No. 64-2, Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 18; Doc. No. 64-11, Pl.'s Ex. 8; see also Doc. No. 54, Def.'s CSF ¶ 5. At the time, Plaintiff felt discriminated against because he believed that he was more qualified than Reis -- Plaintiff had more experience in a supervisory position and more years operating a commercial vehicle carrying hazardous materials. Doc. No. 64-2, Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 19; see also Doc. No. 54, Def.'s CSF ¶ 6. Plaintiff did not file a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") until May 2, 2011, see Doc. No. 54, Def.'s CSF ¶ 7, however, because a general meeting was being organized to address employees' concerns, Plaintiff wanted to speak to military legal advisors, and military obligations delayed him. Doc. No. 54-2, Def.'s Ex. A at 221-22.

This general meeting was held on May 27, 2009 by Defendant's general manager, Shaen Tarter. At the meeting, Plaintiff asked what was going to be done to end workplace discrimination. Doc. No. 54, Def.'s CSF ¶ 10. Plaintiff raised this concern because several employees felt that they were discriminated against on the basis of race and they wanted to speak to Tarter as a group. Doc. No. 54-2, Def.'s Ex. A at 209-14; see also Doc. No. 64-2, Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 23. According to Plaintiff, there were other instances of Caucasians receiving preferential treatment and/or non-Caucasians receiving lesser treatment, including when (1) John Lujon, a Caucasian, was appointed to a supervisory position without any job announcement; (2) Caucasians received favorable schedules compared to non-Caucasians who were forced to work nights and/or weekends; and (3) Debra Mata was demoted from Station Manager to Officer Supervisor with less pay.*fn2

Doc. No. 64-2, Pl.'s Decl. ¶¶ 20-22; Doc. No. 64-12, Pl.'s Ex. 9. Tarter responded that Defendant abided by the law and that claims of discrimination were serious and should not be used lightly such that Plaintiff should provide a written description of any specific instances of discrimination. Doc. No. 54-2, Def.'s Ex. A at 209-14; Doc. No. 54-17, Def.'s Ex. C at 67; see also Doc. No. 64-2, Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 24 (asserting that Tarter told Plaintiff that "if someone did throw [the word discrimination] around lightly, then there would be consequences").

After this general meeting, Plaintiff continued to have problems with Defendant's management. On June 4, 2009, Plaintiff was counseled about the need to stay current with his training, and also received a warning for obtaining a work replacement who was not trained on the relevant airplanes and without receiving approval from his supervisor. Doc. No. 54-2, Def.'s Ex. A at 191-92; see also Doc. Nos. 54-5, 54-6, Def.'s Exs. 3, 4. Plaintiff conceded that both the warning and counseling were warranted. Doc. No. 54-2, Def.'s Ex. A at 192, 194. On June 5, 2009, Plaintiff was suspended for two days for failing to report to work, id. at 198-99, Doc. No. 54-4, Def.'s Ex. 2, which Plaintiff asserted was unfair because the schedule was confusing and often changed. Doc. No. 54-2, Def.'s Ex. A at 199-201.

The last incident before Plaintiff's deployment involved an August 12, 2009 written warning for an alleged failure to use a Status Change Form to document that Plaintiff would not be able to work the weekend of August 8-9, 2009 due to military duty and would need the following Monday and Tuesday off to recover from jetlag. Doc. No. 64-15, Pl.'s Ex. 12. The warning further explains that his request for Monday and Tuesday off was a change in routine days off and impacted scheduling, and that Plaintiff must provide official orders for military duty and the contact number for his unit and Commander. Id. In his written rebuttal to this warning, Plaintiff asserted that (1) he timely provided a Status Change Form to his direct supervisor, Kevin Reis; (2) Mondays and Tuesdays were his usual days off (even though he had been scheduled to work those particular dates), and Reis agreed that Plaintiff could take these dates off; (3) Reis has repeatedly lost his Status Change Forms; and (4) Plaintiff is willing to provide military orders when he receives them, as well as his military supervisor's contact information. Doc. No. 54-16, Pl.'s Ex. 13; see also Doc. No. 54-2, Def.'s Ex. A at 280-83 (explaining that Plaintiff did not believe that Defendant required evidence substantiating his military duty and he wanted to safeguard his commanding officer's information).

2. Plaintiff's Deployment and the August 2, 2010 Incident

In September 2009, Plaintiff was mobilized for deployment to Kuwait, leaving his employment with Defendant on September 9, 2009. Doc. Nos. 54-20, 54-26, Pl.'s Exs. 17, 23. Although Plaintiff's deployment was scheduled to end in October 2010, Doc. No. 64-20, Pl.'s Ex. 17, Plaintiff was discharged from active duty on May 31, 2010.*fn3 Doc. No. 54, Def.'s CSF ¶ 13.

Plaintiff returned from his deployment in late May 2010 and applied for reinstatement with Defendant in late August 2010. Id. ¶¶ 13-15. Defendant reinstated Plaintiff, but immediately placed him on paid administrative leave pending investigation into an August 2, 2010 altercation Plaintiff had with a female employee of AirVentures, an airplane tour company with customer facilities twenty feet from Defendant's offices at Lihue International Airport. See Doc. No. 54, Def.'s CSF ¶¶ 17, 20; Doc. No. 54-2, Def.'s Ex. A at 139-40, Doc. No. 54-16, Def.'s Ex. B at 161.

At the time of the incident, Plaintiff was engaged to AirVenture's co-owner, Donna Diano, and on August 2, 2010, he accompanied Diano to the AirVentures office to pick up payroll information and other documents. Doc. No. 54-2, Def.'s Ex. A at 42-43, 346. Due to previous altercations Diano had with her ex-husband (who was the other co-owner of AirVentures), Plaintiff videotaped Diano as she entered the building. Id. at 346-49. The videotape shows (1) Diano walk to an AirVentures desk, search through a drawer, take out some files, and review their contents; (2) AirVentures employee In-grid Wehner confront Diano about taking the files and attempt to grab the files from Diano; and (3) Plaintiff state "Don't touch Donna," and then insert himself between Diano and Wehner. Doc. No. 54-25, Def.'s Ex. 11; see also Doc. No. 54-29, Wehner Decl. ¶¶ 7-8;

Doc. No. 54-2, Def.'s Ex. A at 350-51. At this point, the videotape stops recording and picks up again after the altercation ended -- it shows Wehner on her cell phone and Diano and Plaintiff leaving the office. Doc. No. 54-25, Def.'s Ex. 11.

As to what happened during the time the videotape did not record, individuals have recited different versions of events. According to Plaintiff's January 24, 2012 deposition testimony, "[I] . . . utilized my body and my arm, along with my hand, to pry myself in between the two women." Doc. No. 54-2, Def.'s Ex. A at 351. Plaintiff asserts that he continued to "block" Wehner as she tried to get around him, and then Wehner eventually settled down and called 911 to report that Plaintiff assaulted her. Id. Diano testified during an August 23, 2010 TRO hearing in the Fifth Circuit Court of the State of Hawaii that Plaintiff put his arm between the two women and as Wehner tore part of a folder, Plaintiff stumbled over a chair, causing Wehner to fall. Doc. No. 64-27, Pl.'s Ex. 24 at 116-17, 124-26. Plaintiff and Diano, who maintained possession of the folders the entire time, then stood up and left. Id. at 118, 126.

In comparison, Wehner asserts in a February 17, 2012 Declaration that Plaintiff rushed at her and used his shoulder to push her to the floor by a file cabinet. Doc. No. 54-29, Wehner Decl. ¶ 8. As Wehner crouched on the floor, Plaintiff was on top of her trying to rip a file she had gotten from Diano while Diano was trying to pull Plaintiff off Wehner. Id. Plaintiff eventually ripped a file from Wehner's hands, walked back to his vehicle, and then for a second time "rushed" Wehner and shoved her to the floor to grab a file she was still gripping. Id. ¶ 9. Joel Christopherson, an AirVentures pilot, recites a similar story in his February 21, 2012 Declaration -- he asserts that Plaintiff "bull rushed" Wehner and slammed her into a file cabinet as Christopherson, Diano, and another man tried to pull Plaintiff off Wehner. Doc. No. 54-31, Christopherson Decl. ¶ 8. Plaintiff tore away part of the file and walked back to his vehicle, while Christopherson followed Plaintiff to try to calm him down. Id. ¶ 9. Plaintiff then came back to the office, grabbed Wehner's forearm, ripped the remaining file away, and then left with Diano. Id.

Finally, Debra Mata saw the incident from Defendant's office and provided two different versions of what happened. On the day of the incident, Mata told police that she saw Plaintiff grab Wehner and push and/or tackle her into a filing cabinet twice. Doc. No. 64-5, Pl.'s Ex. 2. In her December 19, 2011 deposition, however, Mata testified that she witnessed Plaintiff punch Wehner three to four times in the stomach. Doc. No. 64-7, Pl.'s Ex. 4 at 138-41; see also Doc. No. 54-26, Def.'s Ex. 12.

Despite these differing accounts, it is undisputed that Wehner suffered slight bruising to both forearm areas and abrasion and discoloration to her right rib area, and that Plaintiff was arrested for criminal assault. Doc. No. 54-26, Def.'s Ex. 14 at 243-45. On August 23, 2010, the Fifth Circuit Court for the State of Hawaii held an evidentiary hearing and granted Wehner a TRO against Plaintiff. Doc. No. 54, Def.'s CSF ¶ 19; Doc. No. 54-27, Def.'s Ex. 15.

3. Defendant's Investigation*fn4

Upon Plaintiff's request, Defendant reinstated Plaintiff as a full-time Refueler 2, but immediately placed him on paid administrative leave pending investigation into the August 2, 2010 altercation. Doc. No. 54, Def.'s CSF ¶ 20; Doc. No. 54-12, Def.'s Ex. 17.

As part of its investigation, Defendant invited Plaintiff to provide his account of what occurred and to direct Defendant to witnesses who may have relevant information. Doc. No. 54, Def.'s CSF ¶ 21; Doc. No. 54-12, Def.'s Ex. 17. Defendant met with Plaintiff and his attorney, and reviewed Plaintiff's videotape in their presence. See Doc. No. 54-22, Def.'s Ex. 19; Doc. No. 54, Def.'s CSF ¶ 22. Plaintiff declined the request to meet with Defendant to explain his side of the story. Instead, his attorney asserted that Wehner was the aggressor and Plaintiff used force only to protect Diano. Doc. No. 54-22, Def.'s Ex. 19. Plaintiff, through this attorney, further refused to address the amount of time that elapsed with respect to the gap in the ...


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