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Huynh v. United States Department of Transportation

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 24, 2015

Xuan Huynh, Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
United States Department of Transportation, Defendant - Appellee

Submitted May 13, 2015.

Page 953

Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis.

For Xuan Huynh, Plaintiff - Appellant: Stephen L. Smith, Stephen L. Smith Law Firm, Minneapolis, MN.

For United States Department of Transportation, Defendant - Appellee: Ana H. Voss, Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.

Before RILEY, Chief Judge, MURPHY and MELLOY, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 954

MURPHY, Circuit Judge.

Xuan Huynh brought this employment discrimination action against the Department of Transportation (" DOT" ) under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, and the Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minn. Stat. Ann. § 363A.08. Huynh, a Vietnamese American, alleges that the DOT's Federal Aviation Administration (" FAA" ) discriminated against him based on race when it terminated his employment as a trainee air traffic controller. The district court[1] concluded that Huynh had failed to show that the FAA's stated reason for firing him was a pretext for racial discrimination. It granted summary judgment to the DOT, and Huynh appeals. We affirm.

I.

Huynh began working at the FAA in 2009. After graduating from the FAA Training Academy in Oklahoma, he accepted a position as a trainee air traffic controller at the Minneapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center (the " Center" ). The Center is one of 21 " en route" control facilities which guide aircraft flying over the United States. The Center's airspace is divided into six areas based on geography and altitude. These six areas are each subdivided into six sectors, and each sector has both a radar controller and a data controller position. Trainees like Huynh are required to certify at both of these positions in each of the six sectors within their assigned area--a total of twelve positions to be certified for each trainee.

Huynh's training at the Center was governed by the FAA's Air Traffic Technical Training Order (the " training order" ). Under the training order, trainees are allotted a set number of " on the job" training hours at the radar and data controller positions within the sectors of their assigned area. Trainees may receive a limited number of additional hours if their trainers believe they can certify within the additional time, but additional hours are not guaranteed. After completion of the allotted training hours for any given position, a trainee is required to complete a " certification skill check." A trainee is subsequently either certified or suspended from the training program. A trainee can also be suspended for performing poorly on performance skill checks administered monthly to ensure that the trainee is progressing appropriately. If a trainee is suspended after a skill check, a board composed of two supervisors and a union representative reviews the trainee's performance and issues a recommendation to the air traffic manager, the Center's highest authority, on whether additional training is warranted. If the air traffic manager chooses not to provide additional training, a trainee may attempt to transfer to a different center or face termination.

Upon his arrival at the Center, Huynh was assigned to train in Area Six. He completed classroom and lab instruction,

Page 955

after which he was assigned to a training team to instruct and evaluate him as he completed on the job training. A training team is made up of two on the job training instructors and a training supervisor who administers skill checks and final certification checks at each of the twelve air traffic controller positions within a trainee's assigned area. After each training session, the training team provides the trainee with a detailed written performance evaluation that records the trainee's progress on seven major job tasks and 25 separate subtasks. These written forms notify the trainee of performance areas ...


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