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Dungan v. Flightsafety International Inc.

United States District Court, D. Delaware

June 15, 2017

DEAN DUNGAN, Plaintiff,
v.
FLIGHTSAFETY INTERNATIONAL INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On September 30, 2015, Plaintiff, Dean Dungan ("Dungan") brought this action in the Delaware Superior Court for New Castle County against Defendant FlightSafety International Inc. ("FlightSafety"), his former employer, for wrongfully terminating his employment. (D.I. 1.) FlightSafety properly removed this action to the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. (Id.) Thereafter, Dungan filed an Amended Complaint on February 23, 2016, alleging that FlightSafety discriminated against him under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") and Delaware Discrimination in Employment Act ("DDEA"), and violated the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing ("the Covenant") under Delaware law when it terminated his employment. (D.I. 15.) On December 14, 2016, FlightSafety moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, arguing that FlightSafety did not terminate Dungan's at-will employment in violation of the age discrimination laws or the Covenant.[1] (D.I. 27-28.) For the reasons that follow, the court will grant FlightSafety's motion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Dungan's Employment with FlightSafety

         Dungan began his at-will employment at FlightSafety in 1986 as a part-time employee. (D.I. 29 at ¶ 009-A010.) FlightSafety is a corporation which provides flight training services to private and commercial pilots. (D.I. 28 at 2.) In 2000, Dungan started full-time work at FlightSafety. (D.I. 29 at ¶ 009.) From 1986 until his termination on August 18, 2015, Dungan held several different positions: traffic controller instructor, Hawker pilot instructor, program manager, and director of training. (Id. at A010-A012.) The program manager supervised the instructors of a certain program to ensure they followed company and Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") procedures and regulations. (Id. at A012-A014.) To ensure all procedures and regulations were followed, the program manager would review all training records sent by the instructors. (Id. at A017.) If a regulation or procedure was not followed, the Program Manager would inform the instructor that the pilot would need to return to complete the necessary training. (Id.) The Director of Training supervised all the program managers to ensure proper procedures were followed. (Id.) From 2005 to his termination in 2015, Dungan was the Director of Training. (Id. at A018.) From 2011 until his termination, Dungan received very positive reviews for his work, and received merit based salary increases each year. (Id. at A061-A080.)

         The majority of pilots trained at FlightSafety are taught with flight simulators. (Id. at A014.) All FAA regulations regarding pilot training apply to training done on flight simulators. (Id.) In particular, Part 60 of FAA regulations requires pilots to complete a certain number of takeoffs and landings from an approved airport (real or simulated) in order to obtain or renew a pilot's license. (Id.) Airports which are approved by the FAA for pilot training are known as Part 60 airports. (Id.) If a pilot completes a takeoff or landing at a non-Part 60 airport, then the landing/take-off does not count towards the training requirements. (Id.)

         B. July 2015 Flight Training Record Incident

         In July 2015, Linda McRae ("McRae"), the Program Manager, informed Dungan that training records involving two pilots, Edward Craig ("Craig") and Martin Humpherson ("Humpherson"), reflected take offs and landings at non-Part 60 airports. (Id. at A025-A027; D.I. 31-1 at ¶ 037.) After receiving this information from McRae, Dungan called a meeting to discuss the incident with McRae and Assistant Program Manager Jay Hettler ("Hettler"). (D.I. 29 at ¶ 025.) Dungan was unable to review the training records during the meeting, as no one brought the records to the meeting. (Id; D.I. 31-1 at 47.) During the meeting, McRae told Dungan that Craig and Humpherson did not perform enough landings at a Part 60 airport, but McRae believed the two pilots had completed enough takeoffs and landings to meet FAA requirements. (D.I. 29 at ¶ 025.) Believing McRae's account, Dungan suggested that the record could be edited, remarking "it doesn't make any difference. Either leave them in or take them out. It doesn't make any difference as long as we have the number of landings [for satisfying training requirements.]" (Id., 100:2-5.) When McRae asked Dungan whether the record should be changed, he responded "[n]o.... [M]ake sure that, you know, we're all on the same page." (Id., 15-17.)

         To gather more information, the group called Ray Brown ("Brown"), the flight instructor for Craig and Humpherson. (Id.) Brown, who was not the flight instructor for Craig and-Humpherson during their previous two training sessions at FlightSafety, was unable to tell Dungan whether the clients recorded enough takeoffs and landings at Part 60 airports. (Id. at A025-A026.) After calling Brown, Dungan told the group to ensure the clients satisfied the FAA requirements for training Craig and Humpherson; Dungan also told the group that if Craig and Humpherson satisfied the landing requirements, the non-Part 60 airports could be edited out of the training records. (Id. at A026.) Both Brown and McRae informed Dungan they were comfortable with the group's decision before leaving Dungan's office. (Id.)

         After the meeting, McRae became uncomfortable with Dungan's comments during the meeting, and spoke to the Center Manager, Ralph Lintelman ("Lintelman"), about the events. (D.I. 29 at ¶ 050; D.I. 31-1 at ¶ 045-B046.) McRae apprised Lintelman of the following: (1) Dungan wanted the non-Part 60 airports to be removed from the record, and (2) Dungan called Brown to demand he edit the record. (D.I. 31-1 at ¶ 046-B047.) Lintelman, concerned about McRae's version of events, suggested she call Dungan to tell him that she was uncomfortable editing the record, and that it should be restored. (Id. at B046.) McRae called Dungan, telling him she was uncomfortable editing the training record, and that Craig and Humpherson should be brought back for retraining. (Id.) Dungan responded that the records could be left in the original form, and he was comfortable processing the records. (D.I. 29 at ¶ 028; D.I. 31-1 at ¶ 046.) Dungan later discussed the situation with Lintelman. (D.I. 29 at ¶ 033; D.I. 31-1 at ¶ 055.)

         C. Dungan's Termination

         Dan MacLellan, ("MacLellan"), the Vice President of Operations at FlightSafety received an anonymous letter-dated August 6, 2015-describing the July 2015 incident. (D.I. 31-1 at ¶ 068.) This letter stated that Dungan behaved unethically by "falsifying official FAA training records." (Id.) The letter charged Dungan with coercing "the instructor" (Brown) to change the flight records. (Id.) The letter also stated the "PM, " the abbreviation for Project Manager and likely referring to McRae, resolved the situation by reporting the incident to the center management team, who thereafter notified the clients they needed to return to complete training. (Id. at B068-B069.) The letter ends by imploring MacLellan to "take the appropriate actions to ensure this unethical, dishonest, and immoral behavior does not occur again." (Id. at B069.)

         In response to the letter, MacLellan e-mailed a copy to Lintelman. (D.I. 29 at ¶ 051.) During a short telephone conversation between MacLellan and Lintelman, Lintelman confirmed that the events of July 2015, as described in the letter, were "accurate to a tee." (Id., 27:15.) Based on this information, MacLellan directed Lintelman to fire Dungan. (Id.) On August 18, 2015, FlightSafety terminated Dungan for misconduct resulting from the July 2015 incident. (Id. at A033, A085.)

         III. ...


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