United States District Court, S.D. Florida
KATHLEEN M. WILLIAMS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court on the Parties'
competing motions for summary judgment. After careful review
of the briefing and record in this case, and with the benefit
of oral argument, the Court enters final summary judgment for
Defendant on all claims.
Ameer Siddiqui is a Muslim of Pakistani descent. (DE 42-1,
Pl's Statement of Material Facts (PSMF) ¶ 1). Mr.
Siddiqui has worked as a pilot in the aviation industry since
1995, when he began working as a flight instructor in New
York. (Id.). His former employer, Defendant NetJets
Aviation, Inc., is the nation's largest fractional
aircraft ownership company, with the largest private jet
fleet in the world. In 2006, Mr. Siddiqui began working as a
pilot for NetJets in its Citation Excel/XLS fleet. (DE 45,
Def.'s Statement of Material Facts (DSMF) ¶ 1). Mr.
Siddiqui flew private jets for individual "owners"
(NetJets' name for its clients) primarily from the West
Palm Beach location until NetJets suspended him from flying
in September 2013.
The Anonymous Call - Late 2012 / Early 2013
2012 or early 2013, Joseph Dalton, NetJets' Director of
Aviation Security, received an anonymous call about Mr.
Siddiqui. (DSMF ¶ 2; PSMF ¶ 3). According to
Dalton, the anonymous caller was a NetJets' crewmember
who was very concerned something would occur involving Mr.
Siddiqui in the cockpit of a NetJets' aircraft. (DSMF
¶ 3; DE 45-3). The caller stated that Mr. Siddiqui had
made statements that were offensive to certain religious
groups and persons of certain national origins.
(Id.). Specifically, Mr. Siddiqui had commented that
the September 11 attacks were a conspiracy and did not happen
the way everyone believed. (Id.). Mr. Siddiqui also
spoke negatively about individuals of Jewish faith.
(Id.). The caller relayed that another crew member
had told his wife that if he were ever flying with Mr.
Siddiqui and did not come home, the wife should know it was
related to Mr. Siddiqui. (Id.). Dalton reported the
call to NetJets' legal and labor relations departments.
NetJets' Initial Interviews
January 2013, David Hyman, Chief Pilot of the Citation
Excel/XLS fleet, and Anthony Mosso, NetJets' Labor and
Employee Relations Manager, investigated the anonymous
caller's allegations about Mr. Siddiqui. (Id.
¶ 4). Hyman and Mosso conducted telephone interviews of
four crewmembers who had recently flown with him: Jeff
Lindley, Gary Cox, Rick Price and Jim Rivera. (Id.
¶ 5). NetJets did not notify Mr. Siddiqui of the
interviews. (PSMF ¶ 4).
typed summaries of the interviews on January 11, 2013, and
sent them to Eric Lampert, VP/Director of Operations, and
Jennifer Beale, Assistant General Counsel. (DSMF ¶ 6).
Hyman's notes state the following:
• Lindley said he was unwilling to speak freely about
the details of his conversations with Mr. Siddiqui. But
Lindley did say that while "he did not agree with [Mr.
Siddiqui]'s perspective on Middle Eastern politics,  he
wasn't offended or taken aback by anything that was said
during the course of [his] tour" with Mr. Siddiqui.
• Cox told Hyman and Mosso "specific details"
of his conversations with Mr. Siddiqui that "indicate[d]
strong anti-Israeli, if not anti-Semitic leanings."
Regarding the Palestinian conflict, Cox alleged that Mr.
Siddiqui had said, "how would you like it if someone
kicked you out of your home?" Mr. Siddiqui also shared
the viewpoint that Al Qaeda was not responsible for taking
down the World Trade Center buildings. Cox, however, also
"stated he was not offended or concerned by the
conversations he had with" Mr. Siddiqui. Hyman's
"take" from interviewing Cox was "that there
were political views and [Cox] disagreed with them, but [Cox]
could fly with [Mr. Siddiqui]."
• When Hyman first mentioned Mr. Siddiqui's name to
Price, Price's "first words were, 'he worries
me.'" Although Price "could not remember
specific comments, he did say that [Mr. Siddiqui] expressed
such anti-America / pro-Arab sentiments, that it made [him]
• Rivera told Hyman and Mosso that Mr. Siddiqui is a
"big time conspiracy theorist" who had expressed
that the U.S. Government and the Jewish people were
responsible for bringing down the World Trade Center to blame
it on Pakistan so they could take away Pakistan's nuclear
weapons. According to Rivera, Mr. Siddiqui also had stated
that the Taliban are "just a group of scholars.
Rivera also described Mr. Siddiqui as an "extreme
anti-Semite." He said Mr. Siddiqui would frequently
respond to news stories by stating, "You see, it's
the Jews!" According to Hyman's notes,
"Rivera's opinion is that [Mr. Siddiqui] is
'fertile ground' for Islamic extremism due to his
frequent trips to Pakistan and his unabashed hatred of Israel
and the U.S."
Rivera told Hyman and Mosso about two incidents when Rivera
and Mr. Siddiqui were flying a passenger with "a Jewish
sounding name." During one trip, Mr. Siddiqui showed
Rivera the passenger manifest and said, "See her last
name? She is related to one of the families responsible for
persecuting the Palestinians in Israel." On another
trip, Mr. Siddiqui stated that the passenger, whom Mr.
Siddiqui believed was Jewish, had conspired with the U.S.
government to destroy the World Trade Center for the purpose
of implicating Pakistan. Rivera also recounted an incident
when he and Mr. Siddiqui were eating breakfast in a hotel in
Atlanta while they were both in uniform. Mr. Siddiqui became
very angry about a news story that was on the television
while they ate. The story, which related to an American
policy, sparked Mr. Siddiqui's anger and he became very
loud and demonstrative in expressing his anti-American
perspective. When the waitress, who was from Africa,
approached their table, Mr. Siddiqui spoke loudly to her
regarding America's oppression of people from that region
in order to seize their oil. Mr. Siddiqui was so loud that
Rivera had to intervene to calm and quiet him down.
(DE 45-5). Based on these preliminary interviews, NetJets
decided to conduct additional and more in-depth interviews.
(DSMF ¶ 14). Beale prepared follow-up questions for the
four pilots and emailed them to Mosso on February 4, 2013.
Follow Up Interviews
follow up interviews did not occur until six months later, in
mid-August. (Id. ¶ 15). Moss and Hyman
re-interviewed, via telephone, pilots Cox, Price and Rivera.
(Id.; DE 45-7). Hyman's notes of these follow up
calls reflect that Cox reaffirmed that Mr. Siddiqui told him
on multiple occasions that he believed September 11 was a
plot perpetrated by the U.S. Government. (DE 45-7). Cox also
recalled conversations with Mr. Siddiqui regarding trips Mr.
Siddiqui made to Pakistan due to his arranged marriage to a
Pakistani woman. (Id.). Cox stated, however, that he
did not have any safety concerns with Mr. Siddiqui.
(Id.). During his second interview, Price again said
that Mr. Siddiqui expressed an anti-American perspective, but
he could not recall specific comments or provide further
detail. (Id.). Rivera, for his part, reiterated that
he was nervous when he first started flying with Mr.
Siddiqui. (Id.). "As an example, [Rivera]
described an occasion when he contacted his wife to warn her
that if something happened to the aircraft (and crew), it
would be related to [Mr. Siddiqui] and his political
beliefs." [Id.). But Rivera also suggested that
Mr. Siddiqui was "basically harmless."
and Hyman also interviewed a fifth pilot, Joe Wottreng. (DSMF
¶ 16). Wottreng stated that Mr. Siddiqui told him the
September 11 attacks were perpetrated to prevent Pakistan
from obtaining nuclear weapons, and that Mr. Siddiqui would
"talk politics with anyone who will listen." (DE
45-7). He further stated that Mr. Siddiqui made the comment
several times that the U.S. military are "the 'true
terrorists.'" (Id.). Wottreng also noted
that Mr. Siddiqui had traveled to Pakistan multiple times.
(Id.). Wottreng said, however, that he "ha[d]
no safety concern with Mr. Siddiqui." (Id.).
And Hyman's notes of these follow up interviews state
that "ultimately all people interviewed felt that [Mr.
Siddiqui] is not a threat to passengers, equipment or crew.
The general sentiment is that he likes to hear himself talk,
but quickly cuts off the rant when asked to do so by his
fellow crewmember." (Id.).
two weeks later, Hyman, Mosso and Beale conducted telephone
interviews of two additional pilots, Joseph Parks and Scott
Davis. (Id. ¶ 21). Beale prepared typed
summaries of the interviews. (Id.; DE 45-11).
According to her notes, Parks stated that he had not heard
any pilots in his fleet make any racist or anti-Semitic
remarks, and that Mr. Siddiqui never "had made any
comments about Jewish passengers." (DE 45-11). But Parks
did say that Mr. Siddiqui made comments about Jews being
responsible for September 11 and other world problems.
(Id.). Parks also said, "[Mr. Siddiqui] told
him that he ([Mr. Siddiqui]) was questioned by the CIA or FBI
after the world trade center bombings." (Id.).
When asked if he felt Mr. Siddiqui was a safety risk, Parks
said, "I really don't know. If I had the choice,
I'd rather fly with [another pilot], but [Mr. Siddiqui]
didn't preach anything ... I know it's kind of vague,
but we got along pretty good ... we had dinner together a
couple of nights. He wasn't reclusive or preaching to
me." (Id.). Parks also said during the phone
interview that "he has heard from other people who have
flown with [Mr. Siddiqui] that he ticked them off, but he
can't remember specifically who right now."
(Id.). Parks further noted he "goes back to
Pakistan/India all the time..." (Id.).
his interview, Davis said it had been a while since he had
flown with Mr. Siddiqui, but he did "have some questions
... And in talking with other pilots we've shared the
same sentiment." (Id.). Although he could not
recall specific comments, he recalled one particular flight
where they were picking up a Jewish passenger and Mr.
Siddiqui said something negative-he couldn't remember the
exact wording but said "If I were Jewish I would have
been offended." (Id.). Davis also said he had
heard that "apparently [Mr. Siddiqui] took a leave of
absence to go back to Pakistan for a few months and some
people felt he picked up a lot of Anti-American sentiment
while over there. . . ." (Id.).
NetJets Places Mr. Siddiqui On Administrative Leave And
Refers Him To The FBI
the end of August, Beale emailed a summary of Mr.
Siddiqui's employment history and the notes from the
January 2013 preliminary interviews and the August 2013
follow-up interviews to William Noe, NetJets' President
and Chief Operating Officer. (DSMF ¶ 18). Based on this
information, and after discussing Mr. Siddiqui's actions
with Colleen Nissl and Eric Lampert (VP/Director of
Operations), Noe decided to place Mr. Siddiqui on
administrative leave. (Id. ¶ 19). Noe testified
that it is NetJets' practice to put an employee on paid
administrative leave while NetJets investigates any issues
raised about that employee. (DSMF ¶ 20). Noe stated that
employees are placed on leave for two reasons: 1) to
determine whether the information is credible, and 2) for
safety reasons. (Id.). According to Noe, it is not
fair for individual crew members "to know that they are
being scrutinized or investigated and then put them back out
in the airplane and expect them not to be distracted thinking
about it." (Id.).
September 7, 2013, Mr. Siddiqui received an email from
then-Assistant Director of Flight Operations, Brent Owens,
informing him that NetJets had placed him on paid
administrative leave as of September 7, 2013, while NetJets
"investigate[d] allegations of security concerns."
(DSMF ¶ 22; PSMF ¶ 5). Mr. Siddiqui was directed to
report to NetJets' headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, two
days later for a meeting regarding his suspension. (PSMF
¶ 5). During the meeting, he met with Moss, Brent Owens,
and NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots
("NJASAP") union representative Paul Konrath. (PSMF
¶ 5-6). Mr. Siddiqui was asked to return his aircraft
key and badge. (Id.).
day, Dalton and Ron Brower, NetJets' Corporate Secretary
and Associate General Counsel, met with the FBI Columbus
Joint Terrorism Task Force regarding Mr. Siddiqui's
conduct and statements. (DSMF ¶ 24). According to
NetJets, it waited for the FBI to complete its investigation
before taking any further action on Mr. Siddiqui's case.
(Id. ¶ 25).
December 5, 2013, the FBI contacted Mr. Siddiqui seeking to
meet with him. (PSMF ¶ 9). Mr. Siddiqui agreed to meet
that evening. (Id.). During the meeting, the two FBI
agents questioned Mr. Siddiqui generally about terrorism,
September 11, his divorce, and other pilots; they also
disclosed that NetJets had contacted the FBI to open an
inquiry into him. (Id.). The FBI agents assured Mr.
Siddiqui the meeting was not part of any investigation, and
that they were merely following up on an inquiry.
(Id.). The agents indicated they would notify Joseph
Dalton, NetJets' Director of Aviation Security, that the
FBI would be closing the inquiry. (Id.). The
FBI's inquiry concluded in approximately February 2014;
it found no reason for concern or further action, and it
conveyed this conclusion to NetJets in early 2014.
(Id.; DE 45-10 at 84:14-85:2).
Mr. Siddiqui's Extended Administrative
2014 to 2015, Mr. Siddiqui remained on administrative leave
and could not fly for NetJets. (PSMF ¶ 10). He continued
working as an aircraft mechanic for American Airlines during
this time. (Id.). Although NetJets paid Mr. Siddiqui
his full salary, benefits, and a bonus during this leave, Mr.
Siddiqui claims the length of the leave has had severe
repercussions for his career. (DSMF ¶ 47; PSMF ¶
10). For instance, because he had no permission to fly or
otherwise meet his flight training requirements, he claims he
lost opportunities for training and continuing education
necessary to meet regulatory requirements for flying as a
pilot. See (DE 81). He also alleges that he became
ineligible to keep the training required to maintain active
flight status. (Id.; DE 48).
to NetJets, Mr. Siddiqui's case did not progress in 2014
because its management was engaged in contentious
negotiations with the pilots' union and two other
employee groups. (DSMF ¶ 26). These negotiations
occupied a large amount of time for NetJets' employees in
the labor relations department, including Mark Okey, who was
Vice President for Labor Contract Compliance. (Id.).
Okey and others in the department were responsible for
conducting crewmember review boards ("CRBs") for
more serious matters, such as Mr.
Siddiqui's. (Id.). In the same time period,
however, NetJets' Labor Department was able to marshal
the personnel and resources to conduct other CRBs, although
those involved different charges of misconduct. See
(DE 48 ¶ 26; DE 42-2 at 183-86; DE 47-1). In addition to
the union negotiations, NetJets identifies several key
management changes at NetJets that it claims delayed the
scheduling of Mr. Siddiqui's CRB. (DSMF ¶ 27). Alan
Bobo took over as the Director of Operations, the position
ultimately responsible for management of the flight crews and
regulatory and compliance operations, in July 2015.
(Id.). A new president started at NetJets in 2015 as
Mr. Siddiqui's Crewmember Review Board
January 2015, NetJets began the process of scheduling a CRB
for Mr. Siddiqui. (DSMF ¶ 28). A CRB consists of three
to five employees from various NetJets departments assembled
to investigate matters concerning crewmembers, including
pilots. (Id. ¶ 29). During the CRB, the board
members interview the employee in the presence of his or her
union representative. (Id.).
February 16, 2015, Mr. Siddiqui's counsel at the time
sent a letter to NetJets' in-house counsel, seeking
information about Mr. Siddiqui's employment status, and
an explanation for the delay in resolving any issues related
to that status. The letter also raised Mr. Siddiqui's
concerns about potential discrimination and retaliation.
NetJets responded on March 2, 2015, asserting it would not
discuss such matters and that, in any event, it does not
discriminate or retaliate against employees such as Mr.
March 29, 2015, Mr. Siddiqui was asked to travel to Columbus,
Ohio, to attend a CRB hearing scheduled for April 1, 2015.
(DSMF ¶ 30). Mr. Siddiqui was advised that the CRB was
investigating his alleged inappropriate statements relating
to owners and/or violations of NetJet's Professional
Conduct and Prohibition Against Harassment Policy.
(Id.). The notice advised Mr. Siddiqui that these
alleged inappropriate statements included anti-Semitic
comments and derogatory statements about national
hearing occurred on April 1, 2015. (Id. ¶ 31).
The panel consisted of Erica Leighton, Dan Driscoll, Trent
Edwards, and Mark Okey. (DE 45-18). Mr. Siddiqui was
represented by union attorney Sonya Cook and union steward
Mike Monkevicz. (DSMF ¶ 31). At the start of the CRB
hearing, Okey advised Mr. Siddiqui about the importance of
integrity and the board's expectation of complete
honesty. (Id. ¶ 32). Okey also told Mr.
Siddiqui that lying is "a separate and distinct reason
for discipline at NetJets, up to and including
discharge." (Id. 32). Mr. Siddiqui indicated he
Siddiqui was asked a series of questions during the CRB about
whether he had made specific types of statements.
(Id. ¶ 33). He was asked about his comments
regarding Jews, the Jewish religion, NetJets' passengers
whom Mr. Siddiqui assumed or knew to be Jewish, the September
11 attacks, and the U.S. military's alleged terroristic
role. (Id.; DE 45-18). In response to the
panel's questions, Mr. Siddiqui repeatedly denied making
any statements described by the pilots who had been
interviewed. (Id. ¶ 34; DE 45-18). After a
break in the CRB hearing, during which Mr. ...