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Moody v. Aircastle Advisor, LLC

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 30, 2016

SANDRA MOODY, Plaintiff,




Sandra Moody filed this action against her former employer, Aircastle Advisor, LLC (“Aircastle”), claiming (1) race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), the Connecticut Unfair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a); (2) sex (including pregnancy)[1] discrimination in violation of Title VII and CFEPA; (3) retaliation in violation of Title VII and CFEPA; (4) hostile work environment in violation of Title VII and CFEPA; and (5) a violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). Aircastle moves for summary judgment as to all claims. For the reasons stated herein, the motion is GRANTED.


Moody is an African-American female. Pl.’s L.R. 56(a)2 Statement [hereinafter “Pl.’s Stmt.”] ¶ 10, ECF No. 45. Aircastle is a company that acquires, leases, and sells commercial jet aircraft to customers throughout the world. Id. ¶ 1.

In 2005, Aircastle’s chief executive officer, Ron Wainshal, interviewed Moody for an administrative assistant position. See Id. ¶¶ 11-12. On June 30, 2005, Wainshal offered Moody the job. Id. ¶ 12. He knew that Moody was African-American. Id. Moody accepted, and started on July 8, 2005. Id. ¶ 13.

Throughout her tenure at Aircastle, Moody’s supervisor was Marie Gannon, who was the office manager at the Stamford, Connecticut office where Moody worked. Id. ¶ 14. Moody and Gannon were close friends who socialized outside of the office. See Id. ¶¶ 24, 68.[3] Gannon talked to Moody about her family life, and sometimes spoke with Moody’s children on the telephone and sent them letters. See Id. ¶ 25.[4]

Moody was pregnant five times during her tenure at Aircastle. See Id. ¶¶ 112, 114. Two pregnancies resulted in miscarriages in the fall of 2006 and December 2010. Id. ¶ 112. Gannon was sympathetic for Moody’s losses with respect to her 2006 miscarriage, and a miscarriage that pre-dated her tenure at Aircastle. See Moody Dep. at 28. Moody’s other three pregnancies resulted in births in April 2006, January 2008, and July 2012. Id. ¶ 114. Aircastle threw a baby shower to celebrate the birth of Moody’s first child, id. ¶ 115, and gave her gifts at the births of each of her children, id.; Moody Decl. ¶ 23. Moody took twelve weeks of leave, without incident, following her April 2006 childbirth, and again following her January 2008 childbirth. Pl.’s Stmt. ¶ 116.

Aircastle’s executive management team set Moody’s compensation.[5] Id. ¶ 26. Each year, Moody received a compensation statement setting forth her base salary for the upcoming year and her cash bonus for the previous year. Id. From 2005 to 2007, Moody was an administrative assistant compensated as follows:


Base Salary



$55, 000

$5, 000 (prorated)


$55, 000

$13, 750


$57, 750

$14, 400

Id. ¶ 27.

In late 2007, Aircastle hired a new chief financial officer, Michael Inglese, who brought along his executive assistant, Adriana Tournas, who is Caucasian. Id. ¶ 30; Moody Decl. ¶ 11. Inglese supervised Tournas. Pls.’ Stmt. ¶ 30. Tournas started with a base salary of $65, 000, which was more than Moody’s base salary at the time. See Id. ¶¶ 27, 30. Moody brought this to Gannon’s attention, and Aircastle promoted Moody to executive assistant and increased her salary to match Tournas’s. Id. ¶ 31. From 2008 to 2012, Moody and Tournas were compensated as follows:


Moody’s Base Salary; Bonus

Tournas’s Base Salary; Bonus


$65, 000; $14, 500

$65, 000; $14, 500


$66, 650; $14, 500

$66, 650; $14, 500


$66, 650; $12, 500

$66, 650; $14, 500


$66, 650; $10, 500

$66, 650; $14, 400


$66, 650; $0

$68, 000; $14, 500

Id. ¶ 33.

During her tenure at Aircastle, Moody enrolled in an online undergraduate degree program. Id. ¶ 20. Moody sometimes did schoolwork at work. Id. ¶ 21; Moody Dep. at 22-23. Moody received her undergraduate degree in November 2010. Id. ¶ 22. In December 2010, Moody began an online master’s degree program. Id. ¶ 23. She obtained her master’s degree in 2012. Id.

At the end of each year, Moody completed a self-appraisal of her performance for the year. Gannon reviewed Moody’s self-appraisals and drafted manager’s appraisals. Id. ¶¶ 38-39. Gannon and Moody then met to discuss the appraisals. Id. ¶ 40. Moody admits that Gannon’s appraisals of her work for the years 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 were fair and not tainted with discriminatory or retaliatory animus. Id. ¶ 42. Moody’s appraisals for these years were generally positive. See Def.’s Exs. 18-21.

At the end of 2010, Moody submitted her self-appraisal for the year. Pl.’s Stmt. ¶ 48. It was essentially half-finished; Moody failed to set goals, provide feedback or suggestions about how to improve Aircastle, and request training or development opportunities. This self-appraisal stood in contrast to Moody’s prior self-appraisals, where Moody had included personal goals and feedback for Aircastle. Id. ¶ 49.

On January 16, 2011, Moody sent a letter to Wainshal and Lori Kleiman, Aircastle’s human resources consultant. Pl.’s Ex. A; Pl.’s Stmt. ¶ 3. In the letter, Moody noted that the friendly relationship she had with Gannon began to change when she got her undergraduate degree. Pl.’s Ex. A at 1. The letter went on to complain about (1) Gannon telling Moody to inform someone when she takes her lunch break and is unable to answer the telephone; (2) a December 2010 incident where Gannon asked Moody why she would miss an office holiday party following a miscarriage; (3) an incident where Gannon held Moody responsible for booking an unneeded car service reservation; and (4) an incident where Gannon got upset with Moody for not ensuring that a microwave was discarded promptly. Id. at 1-2. Moody did not include any complaints about disparate treatment on the basis of her race because, at the time, she did not believe that race was a factor in her treatment. Moody Dep. 71:5-16. Moody did not have any complaints about her treatment that she did not include in the January 16, 2011 letter. Id. at 76:19-25. It was the first time that Moody had ever complained to anyone at Aircastle. Pl.’s Stmt. ¶ 70. Wainshal asked Kleiman to address Moody’s concerns, and she did. Id. ¶ 78.

Moody believed, and asserts in this action, that Gannon’s attitude toward her and treatment of her changed because she got a degree. See Id. ¶¶ 74-76. The change in their relationship began before Moody’s miscarriage in December 2010. Id. ¶ 75. Moody’s 2006 and 2008 childbirths had not affected Moody’s relationship with Gannon; they had continued to be friendly. Id. ¶ 117.

In February 2011, Gannon and Moody signed Moody’s 2010 manager appraisal.[6] Def.’s Ex. 31 at AYR000161. It noted that Moody’s work was “generally satisfactory, ” but that she should take more initiative, improve communication with her manager, follow through with assignments until their completion in a timely manner, not do schoolwork in the office, and keep personal telephone calls to a minimum. Id. The appraisal mentioned the microwave incident, and made a goal for Moody to identify and resolve issues that arose on her projects. Id. Moody prepared a rebuttal contesting some of the negative marks. Id. at AYR000164-66. Gannon, Moody, and Kleiman met in February 2011 to discuss Moody’s appraisal. Pl.’s Stmt. ¶ 57; Moody Decl. ¶ 12. At that meeting, Moody learned that her bonus for the year would be $2, 000 less than her previous bonus. Moody Decl. ¶ 12.

On April 14, 2011, Moody filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”) alleging that Aircastle gave her a poor appraisal, reduced her bonus, and retaliated against her because of her race and because of her letter to Wainshal. Pls.’ Stmt. ¶ 79, 81-82; Def.’s Ex. 35.

On October 19, 2011, Moody sent Wainshal another letter complaining that her work environment was “hostile, ” that she was reprimanded for making an unneeded travel reservation, and noting that the purpose of the letter was to “bring [Wainshal] up to speed about one of the many nitpicky things that have been going on behind the scenes.” Def.’s Ex. 36. The letter does not assert that the alleged hostility was because of Moody’s race, sex, or pregnancy. Id. Moody admits that, with respect to the travel reservation incident, Gannon did not say anything to her other than to explain the reasoning behind Aircastle’s policy to not book travel over the weekend. Pl.’s Stmt. ¶ 89. Gannon did not see Moody’s second letter to Wainshal until after the filing of this lawsuit. Id. ¶ 90.[7]

In November 2011, upon the CHRO’s recommendation, Aircastle engaged a relationship coach to help Moody and Gannon with their relationship. Id. ¶¶ 92-97. Moody and Gannon met with the coach individually, but never jointly. Id.

Aircastle’s receptionist was charged with answering the main telephone line within the first two rings. If the receptionist was away from her desk and the phone rang more than twice, Moody or Tournas were supposed to answer - Moody in the morning, Tournas in the afternoon. Moody often left her desk without notifying anyone, which resulted in Tournas having to answer the telephone when Moody should have been available to answer. Moody also failed to answer Wainshal’s phone. The receptionist reported this issue to Gannon, and it became the subject of meetings of the administrative staff. Id. ¶¶ 45, 46; Eyler Dep. at 13. Moody proposed having the receptionist advise Moody and Tournas if she needed to leave her desk. Pl.’s Stmt. ¶ 47. Gannon did not approve this proposal. See id.; Eyler Dep. at 14.

In November or December 2011, Gannon drafted Moody’s 2011 appraisal. Pl.’s Stmt. ¶ 59. It was worse than her 2010 appraisal. It noted that Moody’s “performance has declined since her most recent job review” and reiterated that she must follow through with assignments and be more proactive around the office. It concluded that Moody had accomplished only two of her seven goals from her previous appraisal, id. ¶ 60, and that Moody “does not normally complete projects in a timely manner and rarely follows up to make sure manager [sic] is informed” and “continues to have communication issues with her Manager, including showing a lack of respect[, ]” Def.’s Ex. 32 at AYR000151. Finally, it noted that Moody’s “lack of respect towards her supervisor is disruptive to Aircastle” and that she “is not providing value to the administrative team and must immediately change her work habit as described herein for continued employment.” Id. at AYR000152. Moody prepared a rebuttal contesting some of the negative comments. Id. at AYR000154-56.

Throughout 2012, several employees complained to Gannon about Moody. Gannon Dep. at 41-42. In 2012, “people just stayed away from [Moody]. She didn’t look up. She rarely said hello. People just stayed away from her. She was not very friendly.” Pl.’s Stmt. ¶ 62. During the last two years of her tenure at Aircastle, Moody was defensive, unapproachable, and insubordinate in her dealings with Gannon. Nevertheless, Gannon attempted to speak with Moody to understand her negative attitude. Moody countered with more unpleasantness and disrespect. Moody refused to look at Gannon when Gannon spoke, and Moody spoke disrespectfully to Gannon. Id. ¶ 67.

Prior to January 2012, Aircastle had separate vacation leave and sick leave policies. Id. ¶ 98. Effective January 1, 2012, Aircastle combined its vacation leave and sick leave policies into a single Paid Time Off (“PTO”) policy under which employees would accrue PTO throughout the year to be used for absences due to illness or vacation. Id. ¶ 100.

Under the policy, Moody was entitled to 23 PTO days in 2012, which would accrue at a rate of 1.92 days per month.[8] Id. ¶ 101. The policy provided that “PTO may be used in minimum increments of one-half day (4 hours) except for exceptional circumstances and with prior approval of your direct supervisor.” Def.’s Ex. 37 at AYR003024. The policy did not explicitly permit employees to “go negative” (i.e., to take PTO that they had not yet accrued). See Id. at ARY003022-24. Nonetheless, to allow Moody to receive prenatal care, Aircastle permitted her to “go negative” shortly after the policy went into effect. Moody constantly exceeded her allotment of PTO. Pl.’s Stmt. ¶ 104.

In April 2012, Aircastle formally amended the PTO policy to allow employees in good standing to “go negative” up to five days at the discretion of their supervisors. Id. ¶ 108. The policy provided that once an employee had “gone negative” five days, the employee could not take any additional PTO until the employee had accrued enough to return to a zero balance. Def.’s Ex. 37 at AYR003029.

On January 5, 2012, Moody requested a half-day of PTO to leave work at 11:30 A.M. so that she could attend a 2:00 P.M. doctor’s appointment. Because her shift began at 8:00 A.M., she would only have worked three-and-one-half hours if she left at 11:30 A.M. Pl.’s Stmt. ¶ 120. As noted above, the PTO policy provided that “PTO may be used in minimum increments of one-half day (4 hours) except for exceptional circumstances and with prior approval of your direct supervisor.” Def.’s Ex. 37 at AYR003024. Gannon explained to Moody that she had to work until 12:00 P.M. in order to use a half day of PTO; alternatively, she could use a full day of PTO. Pl.’s Stmt. ¶ 120. Moody offered to start work early to make up the time, but Gannon declined on the ground that Aircastle did not need an executive assistant in the early morning. Id. ¶ 122. In March 2012, Tournas was allowed to work only two-and-one-half hours, take only a half PTO day, and make up the hours on a later date. See Moody Decl. ¶ 40; Pl.’s Ex. N.

On January 17, 2012, Moody e-mailed Gannon stating that she was going to take a full PTO day because her car would not start. Pl.’s Stmt. ¶ 124. On January 23, 2012, Moody e-mailed Gannon stating that she was not coming to work because she was not feeling well. Id. ¶ 25. The next day, Moody again e-mailed Gannon stating that she was not coming to work because she was not feeling well. Id. ¶ 126.

By February 15, 2012, Moody had exhausted all of her accrued PTO, and had “gone negative” nearly five days of unearned PTO, which Gannon had allowed her to take. Lori Kleiman, Aircastle’s human resources consultant, informed Moody that Aircastle could not approve unlimited days off, even if they were unpaid, and that Aircastle “need[ed] [Moody] to be in the office to perform a function on a regular basis.” Id. ¶ 127; Def.’s Ex. 43. Kleiman also advised Moody of her right to take intermittent leave for her doctor’s appointments, and that she would receive the necessary FMLA paperwork to seek approval for such leave. FMLA- approved absences would not count against her, but any future absences that did not qualify for FMLA leave would be unapproved. Pl.’s Stmt. ¶ 128.

On February 22, 2012, Moody’s physician certified that Plaintiff required routine antepartum and postpartum care. Id. ¶ 130. Kleiman e-mailed Moody on March 1, 2012 to advise her that she was approved for intermittent FMLA leave for one prenatal doctor’s visit per month, as requested by her physician. The e-mail stated that, if Moody took any intermittent leave before the birth of her child, it would be deducted from her twelve weeks of FMLA leave. But Aircastle ultimately elected not to deduct Moody’s intermittent leave from her twelve weeks of FMLA leave, and instead granted Moody a full twelve weeks of FMLA leave beginning after her last day of work before giving birth, allowing her to exceed the twelve weeks of unpaid leave required under the FMLA. Id. ¶ 131. However, Kleiman advised Moody that Aircastle would not approve future non-FMLA-qualifying absences, which would be unpaid until Moody became eligible for PTO under the policy. Id. ¶ 132.

Kleiman attached to her e-mail a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”), dated February 29, 2012. Moody signed the PIP on March 1, 2012. Id. ¶ 134. It noted that Kleiman and Moody had discussed the fact that Moody’s absences were excessive and a concern to Aircastle, and that Moody had been told to submit an FMLA application if she believed her absences related to a serious health condition. Otherwise, her time off would be considered unauthorized. Id. ¶ 135. As a result of this PIP, Moody was no longer in good standing under the PTO policy. Id. ¶ 136.

Moody missed work on April 11, 12, and 13. On April 16, Moody submitted a note from her general physician indicating that she had been under the physician’s care since April 11 and could return to work on April 16. Because the physician’s note did not appear to relate to Plaintiff’s approved intermittent FMLA leave for prenatal appointments, Aircastle determined that the absences would be ...

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