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Irizarry v. Lily Transportation Corp.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 18, 2017

LUIS IRIZARRY, Plaintiff,
v.
LILY TRANSPORTATION CORP., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

          Dominic J. Squatrito, United States District Judge

         The plaintiff, Luis Irizarry (“Irizarry”), claims that the defendant, Lily Transportation Corporation (“Lily”), wrongfully terminated his employment in violation of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, 49 U.S.C. § 31105 (“STAA”). In his Complaint, Irizarry alleges that Lily constructively discharged him when it failed to take corrective action in response to his reports that rental trucks he was assigned to drive had expired or mismatched registrations and/or insurance documents and instead required him to drive those vehicles without the proper documentation. Lily has filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that Irizarry has failed to establish a prima facie claim under the STAA. For the reasons stated below, Lily's motion for summary judgment is granted.

         FACTS

         Lily hired Irizarry as a commercial truck driver in October 2014. At that time Irizarry, who held a commercial driver's license (“CDL”), had approximately twenty years of commercial truck driving experience. Irizarry typically drove overnight hours out of Lily's facility in Cheshire, Connecticut. Lily often assigned Irizarry to drive trucks rented from Ryder.

         When he arrived for his overnight shift on November 4, 2014, Irizarry discovered and reported to the Lily dispatcher, Al Foy (“Foy”), that the Ryder rental truck he had been assigned to drive had expired registration and insurance documents. Foy instructed Irizarry to drive the truck to the Ryder facility in Waterbury, Connecticut in order to obtain the proper paperwork. Ryder was unable to produce current documentation for the truck, but Foy required Irizarry to make his deliveries in New York in the truck with expired registration and insurance documents. On two prior occasions, Irizarry had reported truck registration problems to the Lily dispatcher at the beginning of his shift. On those two occasions, the problems were resolved before he went out to make his deliveries.[1] On each occasion when Irizarry reported a paperwork problem (registration/insurance) to the Lily dispatcher, he was instructed by the dispatcher not to note on his pre-operation inspection report the problem he had discovered. After Irizarry completed his deliveries on November 4-5, 2014, he returned to the Cheshire facility and resigned from his position at Lily.

         After he returned to Cheshire the morning of November 5, 2014, Irizarry spoke with two members of Lily's management team - - an individual in charge of safety and Judy Cadden (“Cadden”), Lily's General Manager. He showed these managers photographs he had taken of the expired registration and explained to them the previous evening's documentation problem and his decision to resign. The safety manager told Irizarry he would speak with Foy to ensure that the problem did not recur. Irizarry responded to the safety manager by saying, “[y]ou can talk to [Foy] and fix the problem. I don't care, but it's not going to be on me. I'm not going to let nobody else mak[e] me do illegal stuff.” (Doc. # 38-1, at 29, p. 115:2-5). Irizarry stated that the safety “guy sa[id] that he was going to fix the problem, talk to Al Foy and I . . . told him do whatever you want, but I got enough. I just want you to know why I'm leaving.” (Id. at 29, p. 116:4-8).

         Cadden sent an email to Foy the morning of November 5, 2014, stating that she “[j]ust got a complaint about Al Foy giving Luis Irizarrie [sic] a hard time about a tractor that didn't have registration in it. Al we don't do that. If the equipment is missing something get with ryder and get it fixed!” (Doc. # 38-5, at 2). In a subsequent email that day Cadden told Foy he needed “to get with the driver tonight to get this cleared up. At no time do you send out a driver in a tractor that he refuses to take because of DOT issues.” (Id.). Later that afternoon, Cadden sent another email to Foy and others stating that Irizarry “just quit and said he is not dealing with us and is going to DOT for making a person drive without registration.” (Id. at 1).

         On November 6, 2014, another dispatcher, who was unaware of Irizarry's resignation, called Irizarry to give him his work schedule for that evening. Irizarry told the dispatcher that he was no longer working for Lily. On November 10, 2014, Cadden notified Lily's Director of Recruiting, Richard White (“White”), of Irizarry's resignation and provided Irizarry's contact information to him. White attempted without success to call Irizarry about returning to work at Lily. Irizarry testified at his deposition that he believes his phone had been disconnected at that time and, and as result, he would not have received any phone messages.

         On or about February 9, 2015, Irizarry filed a wrongful termination complaint with the Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration (“OSHA”). In that complaint Irizarry alleged that he resigned from his employment at Lily because he had been directed to make his deliveries driving a truck that did not have an up-to-date registration or insurance document, and he feared that if he received a traffic ticket for not having a registration or insurance paperwork, his CDL could be jeopardized. Because OSHA did not issue a final decision on his complaint within 210 days, Irizarry filed his Complaint in this action. See 49 U.S.C. § 31105 (c) (“if the Secretary of Labor has not issued a final decision within 210 days after the filing of the complaint . . . the employee may bring an original action . . . in the appropriate district court of the United States”).

         STANDARD

         A motion for summary judgment may be granted only where there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Rule 56(a), Fed. R. Civ. P.; In re Dana Corp., 574 F.3d 129, 151 (2d Cir. 2009). The moving party may satisfy his burden “by showing-that is pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” PepsiCo, Inc. v. Coca-Cola Co., 315 F.3d 101, 105 (2d Cir. 2002) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Once the moving party meets this burden, the nonmoving party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Wright v. Goord, 554 F.3d 255, 266 (2d Cir. 2009). He must present such evidence as would allow a jury to find in his favor to defeat the motion for summary judgment. Graham v. Long Island R.R., 230 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 2000). The nonmoving party “must offer some hard evidence showing that its version of the events is not wholly fanciful.” D'Amico v. City of New York, 132 F.3d 145, 149 (2d Cir. 1998).

         DISCUSSION

         In his Complaint, Irizarry alleges that “[w]hile performing his daily inspection of [the trucks he was assigned to drive for Lily] as required by 49 CFR 396.11, the Plaintiff noticed that many of the trucks had expired registrations and/or registrations or insurance documents that did not match the truck.” (Doc. #1, at 2, ¶ 5). Irizarry then alleges that he “identified these issues in his daily inspection reports, but the Defendant did nothing in response.” (Id. at 2, ¶ 6). The Complaint further alleges that on November 5, 2014, Irizarry reported to the evening dispatcher that the truck he had been assigned to drive did not have an up-to-date registration. The dispatcher instructed Irizarry to attempt to obtain up-to-date documentation from Ryder, which had rented the truck to Lily. When Ryder was unable to secure a current registration for the truck, the Lily dispatcher ordered Irizarry to make his deliveries without the proper documentation. After completing his deliveries and returning to the Lily facility, Irizarry resigned. According to the Complaint, “[t]he Defendant constructively discharged the Plaintiff's employment when it failed to take any action in response to the Plaintiff's report that his vehicle violated one or more commercial vehicle law/regulation related to health, safety, or security.” (Id. at 3, ¶ 12).

         Lily contends in its motion for summary judgment that Irizarry has failed to establish a prima facie case of wrongful termination under the STAA. Lily argues that Irizarry's complaints about missing or expired registrations and insurance documents did not constitute protected activity under the STAA, because those complaints were unrelated to motor vehicle safety. Lily argues further that the circumstances of Irizarry's resignation cannot satisfy the standard applicable to a constructive discharge claim. Lily also argues that ...


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