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Ellis v. Donahoe

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

December 19, 2014

MARY A. ELLIS, Plaintiff,
v.
PATRICK DONAHOE, POSTMASTER GENERAL, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

CATHERINE D. PERRY, District Judge.

Plaintiff Mary A. Ellis alleges that her former employer, the United States Postal Service, discriminated against her based on her race, sex, age, and disability; she also alleges that it subjected her to a hostile work environment, failed to accommodate her disability, retaliated against her for protected conduct, and forced her to retire.

Ellis began working for the USPS in 1973. On May 8, 2006, Ellis requested a week of leave in order to be with her husband during his dental surgery. Ellis never returned to active work. Instead, from May 2006 to May 2007, Ellis remained a USPS employee but collected pay based solely upon her accrued sick leave. In June 2007, after realizing she was no longer receiving paid leave, Ellis informed the USPS that she would be retiring, effective July 1, 2007. A few weeks after retiring, Ellis initiated the discrimination claims that led to this lawsuit.

Defendant moved for summary judgment. After a thorough review of the entire record, I find that most of Ellis's claims are time-barred because she did not report them to the USPS EEO officer within the required time limits. To the extent her claims are not time-barred, there is no evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude she was discriminated against. Because there are no genuine disputes of material fact and the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, I will grant summary judgment.

Standards Governing Summary Judgment

"Summary judgment is proper where the evidence, when viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, indicates that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Davison v. City of Minneapolis, Minn., 490 F.3d 648, 654 (8th Cir. 2007); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment is not appropriate if there are factual disputes that may affect the outcome of the case under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of material fact is genuine if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. "The basic inquiry is whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Diesel Machinery, Inc. v. B.R. Lee Industries, Inc., 418 F.3d 820, 832 (8th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The moving party has the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted). If the movant does so, "[t]he nonmovant must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, and must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Background[1]

When Ellis initially filed this suit, and when she filed her First Amended Complaint, she represented herself. Counsel later entered an appearance. Although counsel did not further amend the complaint, he represented Ellis at her deposition and in her response to the defendant's summary judgment motion. The First Amended Complaint contains two counts. The first is entitled "Count I (Racial Discrimination: Sex, Age, Harassment, Hostile Working Environment and Retaliation)" and the second is entitled "Count II: Disability Discrimination and Retaliation." The complaint is difficult to parse, but Ellis's deposition testimony and summary judgment briefing assist somewhat in understanding her allegations. Therefore, she appears to be asserting the following claims. First, Ellis asserts five (5) discrete acts of discrimination: (1) her acting supervisor Rhonda Spann's hanging up on her when she called to request leave on May 8, 2006; (2) Spann's disapproving her leave; (3) the USPS's failure to timely process her pay adjustments in 2006 and 2007; (4) being put on leave without pay status in June 2007; and (5) not receiving a retirement watch. Ellis also appears to attempt to allege that she was sexually harassed, that she was subjected to a hostile work environment, that she was constructively discharged, retaliation, and that defendant failed to accommodate her alleged disability. In her opposition to defendant's motion for summary judgment, plaintiff discusses only her hostile work environment and constructive discharge claims. Her complaint asserts violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973[2], and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.[3]

In May 2006, Ellis was working as a supervisor on Tour 1 (the 11:00 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. shift) at the USPS Priority Annex, generally managing 25-30 employees. She claims that two USPS managers, Ronda Spann and Willie Williams, were the only two officials responsible for discriminating against her. Williams was an acting manager in charge of the supervisors on the Tour 3 shift, from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Spann was typically a supervisor, like Ellis, but also sometimes worked as Ellis's acting manager on Tour 1 when the usual manager was out. At the time of the alleged events at issue in 2006, Spann was Ellis's acting manager. Ellis testified that she did not speak with either Williams or Spann after May 8, 2006.

On May 8, 2006, just hours before her shift was scheduled to begin, Ellis called in to a USPS secretary and requested 40 hours of annual leave starting that day and continuing through May 15. Ellis wished to take annual leave in order to be with her husband during his scheduled dental surgery in Detroit, Michigan. The typical procedure for USPS employees requesting annual leave is for an employee to request it at the beginning of the year. For leave that is not requested in advance, the supervisor or manager must talk with the employee about the circumstances of the leave in order to determine if he or she should approve it; supervisors and managers have the authority to deny leave not requested in advance. Ellis also testified that she called Spann later (after she had arrived in Detroit), but Spann hung up on her before they had a chance to speak. In any case, Spann ultimately denied Ellis's request, and for May 8-15, 2006, Ellis was marked Absent Without Leave (or AWOL).

After her week-long absence from May 5-8 in 2006, Ellis never returned to work for the USPS and instead took over a year of sick leave before retiring, effective July 1, 2007. During the course of that year, there were a few instances in which Ellis was mistakenly paid based on work hours instead of sick leave hours even though she was actually on sick leave. This had the effect of falsely inflating, in payroll reports, the amount of sick leave Ellis had remaining. On June 2, 2007, at the request of the plant manager, Spann corrected these mistakes - making eight (8) adjustments for pay periods starting as early as August 2006 and ending in May 2007. Ellis's paid leave ran out, and she was put on "Leave Without Pay" status, starting May 27, 2007.

After retiring effective July 1, 2007, Ellis was never sent a retirement watch. At the time of her retirement, the person who normally sent out watches was on sick leave.

Regarding the sexual harassment allegations, Ellis testified that in 2003, Willie Williams called her to a conference room and asked her if she ever dated anyone at the USPS. Ellis responded that she was married. Williams then asked her if she wanted to switch to his tour of duty and if she ever wanted to go out. Ellis told Williams "no, " and the meeting ended. Williams never touched Ellis, never referred to any parts of her body in a sexual way, and never approached her like this again. Ellis did not tell anyone in management about this encounter until at least a year later. After the encounter, Williams started using some profanity words towards Ellis. For example, he would say things like "Mary, you need to get off your ass and see what's going on over on the other machine" or "what in the hell are you doing." Williams called Ellis "old ass" or "tired ass" in 2004 and 2005. Ellis never reported her claims of harassment to anyone within human resources or anyone with the EEOC. Furthermore, she failed to allege any sexual harassment claims in the EEO charge that led to this action.

Regarding her claim for retaliation, Ellis asserts that she was retaliated against for an EEO claim she allegedly filed in 1998 but did not follow through on. She also asserts her retaliation claim is related to at least one instance in which she called the EEO office to initiate an EEO action (she requested a "packet" be sent to her) but never completed any paperwork or pursued the action further.

The First Amended Complaint alleges that Ellis "has a mental/physically disability (bi-polar disorder/carpal tunnel syndrome) that substantially limits the major life activity of working." In her testimony, however, Ellis never mentioned carpal tunnel syndrome, but instead discussed difficulties with arthritis in her hip. She testified that she asked for a job transfer, but admitted that she never notified the USPS that she had a disability or needed an accommodation. Although Ellis now claims she has bi-polar disorder, she admits that while she worked for the USPS this disorder was undiagnosed and she believes no one in management knew that she had a mental disability. When asked what illness caused her to be off work from May of 2006 to May of 2007, she said ...


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