411 F.3d 1231 (11th Cir. 2005), 04-14382, Coffman v. Chugach Support Services, Inc.

Docket Nº:04-14382.
Citation:411 F.3d 1231
Party Name:Charles COFFMAN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CHUGACH SUPPORT SERVICES, INC., Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:June 08, 2005
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

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411 F.3d 1231 (11th Cir. 2005)

Charles COFFMAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,



No. 04-14382.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

June 8, 2005

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Robert C. Jackson, Harrison, Sale, McCloy & Thompson, Panama City, FL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Catherine Ann Riggins, Miami, Gardens, FL, Patrick H. Gonyea, Venis & Bowling of Miami, P.A., Miami, FL, for Defendant-Appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

Before DUBINA, PRYOR and RONEY, Circuit Judges.

DUBINA, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff/appellant Charles Coffman appeals the district court's order granting summary judgment to defendant/appellee Chugach Support Services, Inc. ("Chugach") on Coffman's claims of employment discrimination due to his active military status, in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 ("USERRA"), 38 U.S.C. § 4301, et seq. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.


A. Facts

In October 1997, the United States Air Force awarded Del-Jen, Inc. ("Del-Jen") a contract to provide base support services at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida. In the same month, Del-Jen hired Coffman as a Hazardous Materials Specialist to work at Tyndall. From that time through November 2001, Coffman worked for Del-Jen and served as a Non-Commissioned Officer in the Air Force Reserve. In July 2001, Alex Gunn, Del-Jen's project manager, promoted Coffman to the position of Hazardous Materials Program Manager. That promotion included a pay raise for Coffman.

There is some confusion over whether Coffman's position as manager was exempt from Del-Jen's collective bargaining agreement as a non-union position. One of Del-Jen's former officers, Steve Kukak, testified that Gunn did not have the authority to make Coffman's position exempt from the collective bargaining agreement by adding duties and pay. Apparently, Del-Jen discovered the mistake over Coffman's promotion while Coffman was away on active duty. As the district court noted, however, this particular dispute over Coffman's position is ultimately immaterial. At the time he left, and at the time he returned from active duty, Coffman considered his position one of management.

In November 2001, the Air Force ordered Coffman to return to active military duty for one year. Coffman notified the proper authorities at Del-Jen about his return to active service. Consequently, Del-Jen hired Rhonda Cruz as a temporary replacement for Coffman during his absence.

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On October 1, 2002, while Coffman was still away on active duty, the Air Force awarded the base support services contract at Tyndall to Chugach, replacing Del-Jen as the primary contractor. The services that Chugach provided at Tyndall were similar to those services Del-Jen had provided. Del-Jen then became a subcontractor with Chugach on the project at Tyndall. Both Chugach and Del-Jen maintained separate contracts with the Air Force. For the portion of the project that was not subcontracted out, Chugach sent in a transition team to interview about 100 Del-Jen employees for employment positions with Chugach.

Previously, in anticipation of Chugach taking over, Coffman had sent Chugach his resume, service orders, and a letter explaining his interest in retaining, and returning to, his former position as a Hazardous Materials Specialist. As a result, Chugach interviewed Coffman in September 2002, but the interview was not for a specific position. Coffman testified that he thought this interview was merely a courtesy meeting. During the interview, Coffman mentioned that he held a managerial position prior to his reactivation. Coffman stated that the Chugach representatives seemed surprised and shocked to learn that he held a non-union position as a manager. Sometime during the interview, the parties discussed an available position that was similar to Coffman's previous position with Del-Jen, but different in that the Chugach position was a non-management union position. Coffman testified that he made it clear during the interview that he was willing to talk with Chugach and work something out regarding the discrepancies between the available position and his former position.

Adrian Darkow, the head of Chugach's start-up team, testified that he was involved in the interview with Coffman. He remembered discussing a management position and believed that Coffman was looking for a management position. According to Darkow, the discrepancies between the positions are why Chugach did not have a position for Coffman. Darkow also claimed that, at some point, he discussed Coffman's situation with Del-Jen representatives and left with the understanding that Del-Jen would be rehiring Coffman. Additionally, Darkow asserted that Coffman's military status was not a factor in Chugach's decision not to hire him. Patrick McCredie, another one of the Chugach representatives who was also present at Coffman's interview, testified that he thought Coffman and the representatives were discussing a vehicle maintenance position. He recalled that Chugach did not have a vehicle management position available for Coffman. He also stated that Coffman's military status had nothing to do with Chugach's decision not to hire him.

Chugach then interviewed Cruz for Environmental Hazardous Materials Specialist, the Chugach position similar to Coffman's former position and, at the interview, offered her a permanent job, which she accepted. Originally, Chugach compensated Cruz at the same pay rate she had received in her prior employment with Del-Jen. Later, Chugach increased her compensation to the union pay rate, as Chugach agreed to abide by Del-Jen's collective bargaining agreement until it could negotiate its own agreement with the union. Cruz's duties at Chugach were similar to her duties at Del-Jen, except for some additional tasks, such as security.

Out of 100 former Del-Jen employees, Chugach hired 97. Coffman was one of the three Del-Jen employees not hired. Coffman was the only Del-Jen employee on military leave at the time of the transition from Del-Jen to Chugach.

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On November 14, 2002, the Air Force gave Coffman an honorable discharge from active military service. In the same month, Coffman returned to Tyndall and began working for Del-Jen as a Vehicle Control Coordinator. Coffman did not wish to remain in this position, but wanted to return to his pre-activation position. Thus, in January of 2003, Coffman mailed a letter to Chugach's President, Robert Westermann...

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