421 Mass. 55 (1995), Garrity v. United Airlines, Inc.

Citation:421 Mass. 55, 653 N.E.2d 173
Case Date:August 02, 1995
Court:Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

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421 Mass. 55 (1995)

653 N.E.2d 173




Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk.

August 2, 1995

Argued May 2, 1995.

[653 N.E.2d 174] Susan F. Horwitz, Boston, for plaintiff.

Jay M. Presser, Toby G. Hartt, Springfield, for defendant.


O'CONNOR, Justice.

In her complaint, filed in the Superior Court, the plaintiff, Mary E. Garrity, alleges that the defendant, United Airlines, Inc. (United), fired her from her position as customer service representative. Garrity alleges in one count that the firing constituted handicap discrimination in violation of G.L. c. 151B, and in a second count she alleges that the firing was a violation of her employment

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contract. A judge allowed United's motion for summary judgment as to both counts, and Garrity appealed. We transferred the case here on our own initiative. We affirm.

In her memorandum of decision relative to the motion for summary judgment, the judge set forth the following facts, which are taken from the summary judgment materials, see Mass.R.Civ.P. 56, 365 Mass. 824 (1974), and appear to be undisputed.

"Garrity began her employment with United in 1974 in a position covered by a collective bargaining agreement. In 1987 she took the position of Customer Service Representative ("CSR").... At the time of her initial employment in 1974, she signed an application which included 'Terms and Conditions of Employment.' Within that section, United states it agrees to employ plaintiff, and then it states, inter alia: 'The employee shall devote his entire working time and his best efforts to the discharge of his duties and to the promotion of the interests of the employer, and shall comply with the company's rules and regulations in effect from time to time.'

"United's regulations state: 'These regulations do not constitute a contract of employment and are subject to unilateral change by the company.' Defendant unilaterally altered the regulations and provided plaintiff with copies.

"Plaintiff received a copy of the company handbook in the internal company mail, did not sign it, and never read it during the course of her employment at United. She was not involved in any negotiations that went into the handbook which states: 'This handbook does not constitute a contract of employment.'

"Neither the regulations nor the handbook specify any term of employment. The regulations do provide a grievance procedure.


"The events which led to Garrity's termination occurred on January 27, 1990. At that time, Garrity was drinking on a daily basis. She was an alcoholic with a psychological addiction. As a result of her alcoholism, Garrity experienced

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many 'black outs,' but was able to hide her alcoholism from others. On that morning of January 27th, Garrity was assigned to work the international desk. As part of a promotion, she [653 N.E.2d 175] gave out packets containing chits to international passengers at the time of check-in: These chits could be exchanged on the flight for a free drink or headset. However, some of the passengers gave the chits back to Garrity. Rather than returning the chits to stock for later use, Garrity kept them for her personal use. Garrity thought she could take the chits because there was no company procedure for accounting for the chits if a customer returned them. Because of her addiction to alcohol, she was unable to resist the drink chits.

"After her shift that morning, Garrity and another CSR, Karen Mathews ('Mathews'), left for Hawaii. They were traveling to Honolulu via Chicago and Los Angeles. As United Airlines Employees they were traveling on pleasure passes which entitled them to travel at a reduced rate. Garrity took the chits with her and used them to purchase drinks on the flight. She became intoxicated and began drawing attention to herself and to the fact that she was a United Airlines employee. En route from Los Angeles to Honolulu, the flight attendants stopped serving her alcoholic beverages because of her behavior.

"When Garrity arrived in Honolulu, she located a supervisor and filed a report that the flight attendants had failed to do a seat belt check upon the descent into Honolulu, resulting in a safety violation...

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