552 S.W.3d 901 (Tex.App.—Fort Worth 2018), 02-16-00489-CV, Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc. v. Burnett

Docket Nº:02-16-00489-CV
Citation:552 S.W.3d 901
Opinion Judge:CHARLES BLEIL, JUSTICE
Party Name:BELL HELICOPTER TEXTRON, INC., Appellant v. Brian BURNETT, Appellee
Attorney:ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: CYNTHIA HILL, DECKER JONES PC, JOSEPH SPENCE, BONDS ELLIS EPPICH SCHAFER JONES LLP, FORT WORTH, TX. ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: WALLACE JEFFERSON, AMY WARR, ALEXANDER DUBOSE JEFFERSON & TOWNSEND LLP, AUSTIN, TX, JASON SMITH, LAW OFFICE OF JASON SMITH, FORT WORTH, TX.
Judge Panel:PANEL: WALKER and PITTMAN, JJ.; CHARLES BLEIL (Senior Justice, Retired, Sitting by Assignment). PITTMAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion. MARK T. PITTMAN, JUSTICE
Case Date:June 14, 2018
Court:Court of Appeals of Texas
 
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552 S.W.3d 901 (Tex.App.—Fort Worth 2018)

BELL HELICOPTER TEXTRON, INC., Appellant

v.

Brian BURNETT, Appellee

No. 02-16-00489-CV

Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth

June 14, 2018

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FROM THE 153RD DISTRICT COURT OF TARRANT COUNTY, TRIAL COURT NO. 153-276130-14, HON. SUSAN H. MCCOY, Judge

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: CYNTHIA HILL, DECKER JONES PC, JOSEPH SPENCE, BONDS ELLIS EPPICH SCHAFER JONES LLP, FORT WORTH, TX.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: WALLACE JEFFERSON, AMY WARR, ALEXANDER DUBOSE JEFFERSON & TOWNSEND LLP, AUSTIN, TX, JASON SMITH, LAW OFFICE OF JASON SMITH, FORT WORTH, TX.

PANEL: WALKER and PITTMAN, JJ.; CHARLES BLEIL (Senior Justice, Retired, Sitting by Assignment).

OPINION

CHARLES BLEIL, JUSTICE

The trial court awarded appellee Brian Burnett damages for age discrimination after appellant Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc. fired him when he was forty years old. In six issues, Bell Helicopter contends that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support several findings on liability; that the trial court abused its discretion by awarding Burnett front pay; and that, alternatively, the labor code caps Burnett’s damages for front pay and for future mental anguish. We hold that the evidence, although conflicting in some respects, supports the trial court’s findings on liability and on damages; we decline to second-guess those findings based on our review of the cold appellate record. We also conclude that the labor code does not cap the trial court’s awards for front pay and for future mental anguish. We therefore affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Background

Burnett was born in August 1973. He was twenty-two years old in 1996 when he began working for Bell Helicopter— a rotor aircraft business— as a stock clerk. The stock clerk position required him to pull parts for customers and to process bills of lading. He worked as a stock clerk for three years before he became a dispatcher at Bell Helicopter for two years. As a

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dispatcher, he was responsible for ensuring that parts reached assemblers on time.

Burnett later worked in Bell Helicopter’s data release department, performing clerical work. His main function was to load engineering orders and drawings into a computer system. After working in that department for nine years, he worked in a similar department that was responsible for making changes to manufacturing plans. He received a fifteen-year service award in 2011.

In 2012, Burnett obtained a position as a senior manufacturing operations specialist, his first nonunion job at Bell Helicopter. When he took the position, he understood that it would be more demanding and that it required different skills than his union jobs, including enhanced communication skills. The position paid him approximately $47 per hour to oversee the assembly of certain parts and the transfer of those parts to Bell Helicopter’s representatives in Canada, where the final assembly of Bell Helicopter’s "412" aircraft— its most profitable helicopter— occurred. Burnett’s position required him to prepare for and host online meetings with the Canadian representatives; his job description required him to, among other tasks, prepare and deliver oral presentations. The Canadian representatives depended on the information from employees in Texas for planning how the representatives could meet commitments to customers.

Carisa Kimbro first supervised Burnett in his operations specialist position. In her first evaluation of Burnett, she described his overall performance as "on target" and "solid." She wrote in part, Through 2012, Brian has shown great improvement on how he manages the 412 program, moving from a more defensive to offensive strategy[.] [H]e is becoming better at finding solutions to issues earlier and will look for continued improvement in 2013....

Presentation of information is one of the most important facets of this position. In the current environment, conference rooms and a directed presentation of program status [are] our major means of projecting ... performance and informing multiple levels of management and many customers on our current position. 2013 should be used to hone the visual presentation of information and [to] clearly and concisely present[ ] the key messages.

With his prior experience, Brian has a depth of knowledge that has aided in his helping train new personnel within the group. We will continue to look for Brian to be a major team player ....

In 2012, Rebecca Rosenbaum, who was in her early thirties, began preparing to replace Kimbro as Burnett’s supervisor. According to Rosenbaum, when she observed Burnett in meetings that year, she concluded that his "communication was not as crisp or as clear" as other employees and that there were "significant challenges to his program."

During Burnett’s time as an operations specialist, Bell Helicopter’s attempt to use a new computer system caused significant problems for the entire company. Burnett’s department began having daily calls with the Canadian representatives about the assembly and shipping of transmissions and gearboxes. Burnett and Rosenbaum often participated together in the calls. Also, once a week, Burnett used a PowerPoint presentation to communicate with the Canadian representatives. The PowerPoint presentation included information about aircraft parts and about "critical areas that [Burnett] thought [he] needed to bring to management’s attention."

In the first quarter of 2013, Rosenbaum replaced Kimbro. At that time, Burnett was thirty-nine years old, was balding, and had gray in his beard. In the spring and summer of 2013, Rosenbaum noticed several

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problems in Burnett’s performance. She later explained, There were several occasions when he did not turn in deliverables on time. His communication in meetings was not at the level that we needed to ... make sure that the audience understood what was going on with his program. There was not enough engagement or communication with other parties within the plant outside of these formal meetings around performance of the programs.... There wasn’t enough early elevation of issues so that we could prevent some of the problems or help problem solve to make better decisions to improve the overall performance of the programs that he was responsible for.

Rosenbaum had several informal discussions with Burnett about these concerns. She later testified, I always tried to give balanced feedback, but certainly there was negative feedback in those meetings....

So we discussed in detail the areas that needed to be improved[.] ... [T]here was a lot of focus around the need to improve communication ... with myself and leadership within the factory, but also communication outside in more formal settings and even informal settings with particular customers ... who were very dependent upon the information from our center in order to do their own planning and ensure that they could meet their commitments to their customers.

Eventually, Burnett asked Rosenbaum to provide "some relief off the lower priority programs that [he] had" and "told her if that if somebody could help [him] with those[,] then [he] could spend more time with the 412 program and help improve that program." Rosenbaum responded to his request by giving some of his work to an older employee so that he could "focus on the communication and the critical deliverables that were so key to making the programs that he was responsible for successful."

On June 17, 2013, Rosenbaum wrote Burnett a letter that described problems with his performance. The letter stated that Burnett was not meeting expectations in two ways: he was "not completing deliverables on time and without errors," and he needed to "improve communication with manufacturing, assembly, procurement[,] and customers." Under the subheading relating to not completing deliverables, the letter referred to a "7:45 Daily Canada Call on 5/16." Burnett testified that he missed a meeting on that day because he was sick. Rosenbaum testified, We had a daily 7:45 call with ... Canada, to go over the status of all of the key deliverables. We were behind schedule and it was a key communication point so that they understood and could plan their production schedule.

As part of this, Mr. Burnett had to provide me daily a status update on where all the key deliverables on his program were, and on this particular date he did not provide that. I didn’t get any information at all and didn’t get anything until a text after the meeting was over that he was not coming to work that day.

....

I wrote him up because he didnt take alternative methods to...

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