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Parker v. Southwest Airlines Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

September 11, 2019




         With the benefit of full briefing and able argument by both sides at a hearing, the Court grants the Defendant's amended motion final summary judgment on all claims (Dkt. 52) pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.


         Plaintiff Laurena Parker filed this lawsuit against Southwest, asserting a claim against it for violation of 42 U.S.C. §1981. Plaintiff alleges that Southwest intentionally discriminated against her based on her race during a December 11, 2017, flight from Las Vegas to Tampa. In this case, the crew of Southwest Airlines encountered a dispute between Plaintiff and two other passengers during the boarding process, at the beginning of a long and full flight. There is no direct evidence that Southwest engaged in racial discrimination in resolving the dispute, nor is there any material or sufficient indirect evidence that a Southwest employee or agent engaged in intentional racial discrimination against Plaintiff. Although Plaintiff encountered a rude pair of travelers and was unhappy with the manner in which Southwest resolved the dispute, she was delivered safely to her destination as she contracted.


         Under Rule 56, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Mize v. Jefferson City Bd. of Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 742 (11th Cir. 1996). An issue of fact is “genuine” only if “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is “material” if the fact could affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the governing law. Id.

         The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying those portions of the record demonstrating the lack of a genuinely disputed issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If met, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to “come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Shaw v. City of Selma, 884 F.3d 1093, 1098 (11th Cir. 2018) (citation omitted). To satisfy its burden, the non-moving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and “identify affirmative evidence” that creates a genuine dispute of material fact. Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 600 (1998).

         In determining whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists, the Court must view the evidence and draw all factual inferences therefrom in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and must resolve any reasonable doubts in the non-moving party's favor. Skop v. City of Atlanta, 485 F.3d 1130, 1136 (11th Cir. 2007). Summary judgment should only be granted “[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party[.]” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.

         Section 1981 provides, in relevant part:

All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other.

42 U.S.C. § 1981(a).

         The Court is guided by the Eleventh Circuit's teachings in Kinnon v. Aycoub, Gopman & Associates, Inc., 490 F.3d 886 (11th Cir. 2007). “To state a claim under § 1981, a plaintiff must identify an impaired contractual relationship . . . under which the plaintiff has rights.” Kinnon v. Arcoub, Gopman & Assocs., Inc., 490 F.3d 886, 890 (11th Cir. 2007) (internal citation and quotation omitted). To withstand a summary judgment motion under section 1981, a Plaintiff must identify a genuine issue of material fact that: 1) Plaintiff is a member of a racial minority; 2) the Defendant intended to discriminate on the basis of race; and 3) the discrimination concerned one or more of the activities enumerated in the statute, which include “the making, performance, modification, and termination of contracts, and the enjoyment of all benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of the contractual relationship.” Id. at 890- 91. Plaintiff fails both the second and third elements. The Eleventh Circuit's admonition in Kinnon is apt here: “Section 1981 does not provide a general cause of action for all racial harassment that occurs during the contracting process. Rather, ‘in the retail context, the plaintiff must demonstrate the loss of an actual . . . contract interest.'” Id. at 892.


         Here, the facts (viewed most favorably to Plaintiff) show a crowded passenger-loading scramble typical of hurried aircraft boarding, in which a couple seated in Plaintiff's row were quite rude. Southwest resolved the issue effectively, without racial animus, albeit in a manner not satisfactory to Plaintiff. Plaintiff has not demonstrated material or real racial animus intended by Southwest.

         Plaintiff is an African American female, approximately 71 years old. Dkt. 59 at 2. She has suffered from anxiety/stress disorder for twenty years and has been treating it for the last ten years or so, somewhat intermittently. Dkt. 59-8 at 24-26. She boarded a nonstop flight on Southwest from Las Vegas to Tampa in December 2017, one of Southwest's longer trips. Id. at 123. She was a frequent traveler. Id. at 57-58. The 175-passenger plane was nearly full, and she boarded late as ...

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