Mousa v. Lauda Air Luftfahrt, A.G.

Decision Date31 March 2003
Docket NumberNo. 01-4758-CIV.,01-4758-CIV.
Citation258 F.Supp.2d 1329
PartiesSamir MOUSA, Plaintiff, v. LAUDA AIR LUFTFAHRT, A.G., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida

Michael L. Walker, Michael Lynn Walker, Florin, Roebic & Walker, Palm Harbor, FL, for Samir Mousa.

Courtney Blair Wilson, Gaye Lon Huxoll, Shook, Hardy & Bacon, Miami, FL, for Lauda-Air Luftfahrt, A.G.

ORDER GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT AS TO RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS AND ORDER DECLINING SUPPLEMENTAL JURISDICTION OF BREACH OF CONTRACT CLAIM

MORENO, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (D.E. No. 22), filed on October 11, 2002. Plaintiff Samir Mousa sued Defendant Lauda Air Luftfahrt, A.G. ("Lauda Air") for religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Florida Civil Rights Act (the "FCRA") as well as for common law breach of contract. Because the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that Lauda Air is an "employer" within the meaning of Title VII, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this claim. While the Court finds that it has subject matter jurisdiction under the FCRA, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to make out a prima facie case of religious discrimination based upon either direct or circumstantial evidence. Finally, because it appears to a legal certainty that the breach of contract claim is for less than the monetary threshold required for diversity jurisdiction, the Court finds that it does not have independent subject matter jurisdiction over this claim and declines supplemental jurisdiction.

I. BACKGROUND

In February of 1999, Plaintiff applied for the position of Lauda Air's "Area Manager Americas." On February 23, 1999, after initial screening by an employment search firm, Lauda Air interviewed Plaintiff and selected him for the position. Michael Lewin, Director International Sales, Martin Wiesinger, Executive Vice President Commercial, and Erika Loeschl, Acting Area Manager Americas, were present at the final round of interviews. Later that day, the parties executed a letter of intent memorializing several material terms of an anticipated employment agreement. Cmplt. Ex. C. The parties expressly agreed that Plaintiffs employment would be terminable at will with four weeks notice. Id. Plaintiff tendered his resignation to his former employer of fifteen years the following day.

On March 2, 1999, Plaintiff attended a marketing meeting led by Ms. Loeschl. In response to Plaintiffs suggestion that Lauda Air target the ethnic market, Ms. Loeschl allegedly inquired whether Plaintiff was Muslim.1 Plaintiff testified that he answered in the affirmative and that Ms. Loeschl replied: "We at Lauda Air have our own religious values and ethics and we expect all of our management team to adhere by it and nothing else." Ms. Loeschl denies that this exchange ever took place. Prior to the execution of a formal employment agreement and commencement of his employment on March 22, 1999, Lauda Air terminated Plaintiffs employment and so advised him on March 16,1999.

After Lauda Air elected to terminate his employment, Plaintiff filed a charge of religious discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and subsequently filed this lawsuit after timely exhausting his administrative remedies. In the instant case, Plaintiff alleges three causes of action: (1) religious discrimination under Title VII; (2) religious discrimination under the FCRA; and (3) common law breach of contract.

First, Lauda Air argues that the Court is without jurisdiction to hear the religious discrimination claims because Lauda Air does not have sufficient domestic employees to be subject to either Title VII or the FCRA. Second, Lauda Air argues that Plaintiff has failed to make out a prima facie case under Title VII and the FCRA based on either direct or circumstantial evidence of discrimination. Lauda Air contends that the record is devoid of direct statements of discriminatory intent and that Plaintiff has failed to provide sufficient evidence that the relevant decisionmakers knew his religion or treated non-Muslims differently. Third, Lauda Air argues that, even if Plaintiff has made out a prima facie case, it has articulated legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for terminating Plaintiffs employment. Finally, Lauda Air argues that Plaintiffs contract damages should be limited to his pro-rata salary for the four week notice of termination period.

Because the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that Lauda Air is an "employer" within the meaning of Title of VII, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this claim and therefore need not address Lauda Air's remaining substantive arguments. While the Court finds that it has subject matter jurisdiction under the FCRA, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to make out a prima facie case of religious discrimination, because there is insufficient evidence in the record that the relevant decisionmakers had knowledge of Plaintiffs religion or Ms. Loeschl's allegedly discriminatory statement at the time they made the relevant employment decisions. Finally, because the Court agrees that Plaintiffs contract damages, if any, are limited to those accrued during the four-week notice of termination period and therefore appear to a legal certainty to be less than the requisite monetary threshold for diversity jurisdiction, the Court finds that it does not have independent subject matter jurisdiction over this claim and declines supplemental jurisdiction.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is authorized when there is no genuine issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970). The party opposing the motion for summary judgment may not simply rest upon mere allegations or denials of the pleadings; the non-moving party must establish the essential elements of its case on which it will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). The nonmovant must present more than a scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmovant's position. A jury must be able reasonably to find for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

III. DISCUSSION
A. TITLE VII
1. Definition of "Employer"

The first issue before the Court is whether Lauda Air is an "employer" subject to Title VII. A district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to entertain a suit against an entity that does not fall under Title VII's statutory definition of "employer." Lyes v. City of Riviera Beach, 166 F.3d 1332, 1340-41 (11th Cir. 1999); Virgo v. Riviera Beach Assocs., Ltd., 30 F.3d 1350, 1359 (11th Cir. 1994). "[A] plaintiff must show that her `employer' had fifteen or more employees for the requisite period provided under the statute before her Title VII claims can be reached." Lyes, 166 F.3d at 1340-41.

Under Title VII it is "an unlawful employment practice for an employer ... to discharge any individual ... because of such individual's ... religion." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). Simply put, Title VII is only applicable to individuals employed by an "employer" with fifteen or more "employees." Title VII defines "employer" as "a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has fifteen or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year." Id. § 2000e(b). "Person" is defined to include a corporation. Id. § 2000e(a). Title VII defines "employee" as "an individual employed by an employer, except that the term `employee' shall not include any person elected to public office in any State or political subdivision of any State by the qualified voters thereof, or any person chosen by such officer to be on such officer's personal staff, or an appointee on the policy making level or an immediate adviser with respect to the exercise of the constitutional or legal powers of the office." Id. § 2000e(f). The "current year" refers to the year in which the alleged unlawful practice occurred. Dumas v. Town of Mt. Vernon, 612 F.2d 974, 979 n. 4 (5th Cir.1980), rev'd on other grounds, Larkin v. Pullman-Standard Div., Pullman, Inc., 854 F.2d 1549 (11th Cir.1988); EEOC v. Pettegrove Truck Serv., Inc., 716 F.Supp. 1430, 1431 (S.D.Fla.1989).

Because the alleged discrimination took place in 1999, the relevant time period for purposes of Title VII is 1998 and 1999. It is undisputed that Lauda Air had more than fifteen employees in 1998 and 1999. See Lauda Air's Answer to Plaintiffs Interrog. No. 1 ("During calendar year 1998, there were 1,516 persons on [Lauda Air's] payroll. During calendar year 1999, there were 1,726 persons on [Lauda Air's] payroll"). The vast majority of these individuals were foreign citizens based abroad who worked exclusively outside of the United States. See id. ("Only one of the individuals on [Lauda Air's] payroll in 1998 or 1999, who did not work in the United States, was a U.S. citizen."). It is undisputed that domestic employees who worked for Lauda Air "for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks" during the relevant time period are included in the jurisdictional count. On the other hand, at issue is whether the following categories of individuals are included: (i) foreign citizens working exclusively outside of the United States; (ii) United States citizens working exclusively outside of the United States; (iii) foreign citizens based abroad who performed any duties within the United States; and (iv)...

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