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Baker v. Potter

December 02, 2003

ESSIE J. BAKER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN E. POTTER, POSTMASTER GENERAL, UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document No. 48

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART THE DEFENDANT'S RENEWED MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Essie Baker brings suit pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §§ 701 et seq., alleging that the defendant, John E. Potter,*fn1 named in his official capacity as Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service ("the defendant" or"Postal Service"), discriminated against her based on her sex, disability and in retaliation for her prior Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaints. The matter is currently before the court on the defendant's renewed motion for summary judgment. Because the plaintiff fails to carry her burden with respect to her discrimination claims, the court grants the defendant's motion on all but one claim. As for the remaining claim, the court denies the defendant's motion because a genuine issue of material fact precludes summary judgment.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

The plaintiff, an employee of the Postal Service, is a letter carrier working out of the Customs House Station, a small post office station serving approximately 15-17 routes in Washington, D.C. Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Renewed Opp'n") at 1-2. Initially filed as two complaints but now consolidated into one, the case before the court involves two separate actions taken by the Postal Service that the plaintiff believes were discriminatory. Specifically, she alleges that the defendant twice violated federal antidiscrimination law: first, by altering her employment status from carrier to clerk, and second, by denying her a promotion to the position of Acting Supervisor. Compl. (00-0786) at 1-2; Compl. (00-1104) at 1; Pl.'s Renewed Opp'n at 1.

The first action arises out of a long-running dispute ("the 1992 Acting Supervisor dispute") between the plaintiff and the Postal Service regarding her opportunity for promotion to the position of Acting Supervisor. The plaintiff states that despite her expressed interest and a 1990 settlement under which the defendant agreed to afford her the opportunity to serve as Acting Supervisor as long as her physical limitations would allow, the Postal Service refused to appoint her as Acting Supervisor from March 1992 onward, instead appointing three male co-workers to the position. Pl.'s Renewed Opp'n at 2-6, 32 n.12 & Ex. 10; Def.'s Renewed Mot. Ex. 8. In September 1992, the plaintiff filed an Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaint alleging discrimination based on disability, sex, and retaliation. Pl.'s Renewed Opp'n at 6 & Ex. 18 at 2. In February 2000, after several years involving the complaint's withdrawal and reinstatement as well as multiple appeals, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") issued a final decision that dismissed the plaintiff's claims. Id. Ex. 22 at 4.

The second action stems from a wrist injury sustained by the plaintiff in 1995 while she was delivering mail. Id. at 13. After a period of recuperation, she returned to work in 1996, signing a contract known as a Rehabilitation Job Offer ("the 1996 Offer") that established her position as a"Modified Carrier." Id. Within a few months, however, she noticed that her pay stubs reflected the position of"Modified Part-Time Flexible Clerk" ("PTF Clerk"). Id. at 14. After requesting a copy of the contract, she discovered that her Modified Carrier title had been"whited-out" and replaced with the PTF Clerk title, a change that the plaintiff alleges amounted to a demotion. Id.; Compl. (00-0786) at 1. These events prompted the plaintiff to file another EEO complaint in March 1997 with the EEOC. Pl.'s Renewed Opp'n at 14 & Ex. 38 at 1. Her complaint alleged discrimination based on disability and retaliation for prior EEOC activity. Id. In September 1999, after an administrative law ruling, the Postal Service issued a final agency decision finding no discrimination and closing the case. Id. Ex. 38 at 1.

B. Procedural History

In informing the plaintiff of their final decisions, both the Postal Service and the EEOC included a notice of right to file a civil action in federal court (a"right-to-sue" letter). Id. Exs. 38 at 1-2, 22 at 5. With the letters in hand, the plaintiff*fn2 filed two complaints*fn3 in the spring of 2000. Mirroring her EEOC claims, the first complaint alleged discrimination based on disability, sex, and retaliation; the second, discrimination based on disability.*fn4 Compl. (00-0786) at 1-2; Compl. (00-1104) at 1. Although the initial complaints did not identify the statutory bases for the actions, the parties' subsequent submissions indicate that the plaintiff premises her claims on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and sections 501 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §§ 791 et seq. See, e.g., Pl.'s Opp'n at 19, 31, 36.

The defendant moved to dismiss both complaints for failure to timely file the complaints, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss or for Summ. J. (00-0786); Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss or for Summ. J. (00-1104). After concluding that the plaintiff effectively had filed both complaints within the relevant deadlines, this court denied the defendant's motions to dismiss. Mem. Op. (00-0786) dated Apr. 6, 2001; Mem. Op. (00-1104) dated Mar. 27, 2001. Determining that the defendant's alternative motions for summary judgment were premature, the court denied those motions without prejudice. Id.

Shortly thereafter, the court consolidated the two cases into one and set a schedule for discovery and briefing. Order dated June 4, 2001. The court later extended the final deadline for discovery to May 15, 2002. Order dated Apr. 8, 2002.

In February 2002, during the discovery process, the plaintiff served the defendant with several requests for admission pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 36. Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Leave to Withdraw ("Pl.'s Withdrawal Opp'n") at 5-6 & Ex. 13; Pl.'s Renewed Opp'n Ex. 27. Among the requested admissions were several relating to the plaintiff's alleged disability. Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 27. The defendant did not respond within the rule's 30-day deadline. Id. at 23; Def.'s Mot. for Leave to Withdraw ("Def.'s Withdrawal Mot.") at 1. In May 2002, at the close of discovery, the defendant served a belated response denying several of the requested admissions, including most of those pertaining to the plaintiff's alleged disability. Pl.'s Opp'n at 23 n.9; Def.'s Reply at 2 n.1 & Ex. 1.

Approximately five weeks after discovery closed, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that the plaintiff had failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mot.") at 1. As part of its argument, the Postal Service reiterated that the plaintiff had failed to show that she was an individual with a disability. Id. at 12-14. In July 2002, the plaintiff filed an opposition indicating that because the defendant had failed to timely respond to her February requests for admissions, the defendant had admitted that the plaintiff was an individual with a disability. Pl.'s Opp'n at 23-25, 36. In August 2002, the defendant filed a motion for leave to withdraw all deemed admissions and substitute the defendant's May 2002 response. Def.'s Withdrawal Mot. at 1. On December 10, 2002, the court denied the defendant's motion, concluding that withdrawal of the defendant's admissions would not subserve the presentation of the merits. Mem. Op. dated Dec. 10, 2002. One month later, on January 10, 2003, the defendant filed a renewed motion for summary judgment. Def.'s Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Renewed Mot."). The court now turns to the defendant's renewed motion.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for a Motion for ...


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