United States District Court, D. Columbia
December 13, 2005.
JANICE GOODMAN-ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICARDO URBINA, District Judge
GRANTING THE DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
This matter is before the Court on the defendants' motion to
dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. Having
considered the motion, the plaintiff's opposition, the
defendants' reply, and the existing record of this case, the
Court will grant summary judgment for the defendants.
The plaintiff, a former employee of the United States Postal
Service (hereinafter "the defendant"), suffered an on-the-job
back injury on November 23, 1998 when she tripped over a box .
Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Summ. J.
("Defs.' Mot."), Ex. 2 (Notice of Traumatic Injury and Claim for
Continuation of Pay/Compensation). She was diagnosed with "lumbar
disc syndrome." Id., Ex. 3 (Duty Status Report). By letter, the
Labor Department's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs informed the plaintiff
that it had accepted her claim. Defs.' Mot., Ex. 4 (letter dated
January 13, 1999 from Claims Examiner, Employment Standards
Administration, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs,
Division of Federal Employees' Compensation) at 1. Attached to
the letter was a two-page document explaining, among other
things, the plaintiff's obligation to notify the office of her
return to work. Id. at 3. In relevant part, the document
When you return to work, or obtain new employment,
notify this office right away. If you receive a
compensation check which includes payment for a
period you have worked, return it to us immediately
to prevent overpayment of compensation.
The plaintiff's physician placed her on temporary total
disability from December 2, 1998 through March 18, 1999.*fn1
Defs.' Mot., Ex. 5 (Investigative Memorandum dated September 9,
1999) at 1. During that time, the plaintiff received continuation
of pay and loss of wage compensation from the Department of
Labor. Id. On February 11, 1999, the plaintiff was placed on
the periodic roll.*fn2 Id. She began to receive regular
compensation payments beginning February 27, 1999. Id. She
returned to work on partial disability status on March 23,
The plaintiff did not notify the Office of Workers'
Compensation Programs of her return to work on March 23, 1999.
Defs.' Mot., Ex. 6 (Notice of Removal). Review of the plaintiff's wage earnings and compensation history revealed that, for the
period from March 27, 1999, through August 13, 1999, the
plaintiff received both regular wages and compensation
benefits.*fn4 Id., Ex. 5 at 1. Because receipt of both
wages and compensation checks violated Section 666.2 of the
Employee and Labor Relations Manual, the defendant issued the
plaintiff a Notice of Removal on November 20, 1999.*fn5
According to the defendant, the plaintiff was terminated for
"unacceptable conduct," in that she "improperly accepted and
cashed [workers' compensation benefit] checks with the knowledge
that she had no reasonable right to do so." See Defs.' Mot.,
Ex. 1. The plaintiff challenged her termination by pursuing a
discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission ("EEOC"). Compl., Ex. 1 (EEOC's Denial of Request for
Reconsideration). An administrative law judge found that the
plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of
discrimination on the basis of her disabilities (back injury and
major depression/stress). Id.
The plaintiff brings this action under the Rehabilitation Act
of 1973 ("Rehabilitation Act"), see 29 U.S.C. § 791 et
seq.*fn6 Among other things, she demands reinstatement to
her former position and a retroactive award of pay and benefits. III. DISCUSSION
A. Standard of Review
Summary judgment is granted to the movant if he has shown, when
the facts are viewed in the light most favorable to the
non-movant, that there are no genuine issues of material fact in
dispute and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter
of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986);
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A material fact is one "that might affect the
outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When evaluating a
summary judgment motion, "[c]redibility determinations, the
weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate
inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a
judge." Id. at 255; Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products,
Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). The party opposing a motion for
summary judgment "may not rest upon the mere allegations or
denials of his pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts
showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248; see also Jackson v.
Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, 101 F.3d 145,
150 (D.C. Cir. 1996).
B. The Plaintiff Fails to Establish a Discriminatory Reason for
In relevant part, the Rehabilitation Act provides that:
No otherwise qualified individual with a disability
in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of
her or his disability, be excluded from the
participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be
subjected to discrimination under any program or
activity receiving Federal financial assistance or
under any program or activity conducted by any
Executive agency or by the United States Postal
29 U.S.C. § 794(a). Under the Rehabilitation Act, an "individual
with a disability" is a person who "has a physical or mental
impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities." 29 U.S.C. § 705(20)(B)(i). In
determining whether an employer violates the Rehabilitation Act,
the standards applied are those applied under Title I of the
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), see
42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq., as it relates to employment. See
29 U.S.C. § 794(d).
The term "disability" is defined by regulation as "[a] physical
or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the
major life activities of such individual."*fn7
29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(g)(1). "Major life activities" are defined as "functions,
such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking,
seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working."
29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i). The plaintiff appears to allege that the
defendant violated the Rehabilitation Act by terminating her
employment on the basis of her disability, mental
illness.*fn8 Compl. ¶¶ 4-5.
In the absence of direct evidence of discrimination, the Court
applies the analysis set forth in McDonnell Douglas v. Green,
411 U.S. 792 (1973). McGill v. Muñoz, 203 F.3d 843, 845 (D.C.
Cir. 2000) (discussing allocation of burden of proof for claims
under the Rehabilitation Act). It is the plaintiff's initial
burden to establish a prima facie case of discrimination by a
preponderance of the evidence. Id. at 802. To establish a
prima facie case of discrimination under the Rehabilitation
Act, the plaintiff must show that "she (1) is an individual with
a disability (2) who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can
perform the essential functions of the position, and (3) who
suffered an adverse employment decision due to her disability."
Davis v. Ashcroft, 355 F. Supp. 2d 330, 353 (D.D.C. 2005)
(citing Chinchillo v. Powell, 236 F.Supp.2d 18, 23 (D.D.C.
2003); Breen v. Dep't of Transp., 282 F.3d 839, 841 (D.C. Cir.
2002)). If a plaintiff succeeds in making out a prima facie
case of discrimination, the burden shifts to the defendant to
rebut the presumption of discrimination by producing "evidence
that the adverse employment actions were taken for a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason." Aka v. Wash. Hosp. Ctr.,
156 F.3d 1284, 1289 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (citation omitted); see Texas Dep't
of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254 (1981). At this
point, the presumption of discrimination generated by the prima
facie showing drops from the case, and the plaintiff has an
opportunity to present evidence that a factor such as disability,
not the defendant's proffered reasons, was the true reason for
the adverse employment action. Id., 450 U.S. at 254-55.
The Court presumes, without deciding, that the plaintiff is
disabled for purposes of the Rehabilitation Act, that she is
qualified to perform the functions of her postal service
position, and that her termination is an adverse employment
The defendant has shown that he took an adverse employment
action for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason. Upon
acceptance of her workers' compensation claim, the Department of
Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, the plaintiff
was advised of her obligation to notify that office upon her
return to work. Defs.' Mot., Ex. 4 at 3. She further was advised
of her obligation to return immediately any compensation check
that covered any period during which she had worked. Id. An
investigation revealed that the plaintiff had received and cashed
five compensation checks between April and August 1999, after she
returned to work and after she began to receive wages from the
Postal Service. Id., Ex. 5, Ex. 6. In addition, the defendant
demonstrated that the receipt of both compensation checks and
wages violated Section 666.2 of the Employee and Labor Relations
Manual, which in relevant part provides:
Employees are expected to conduct themselves during
and outside of working hours in a manner which
reflects favorably on the Postal Service. Although it
is not the policy of the Postal Service to interfere with the private lives of employees, it
does require that postal personnel be honest,
reliable, trustworthy, courteous, and of good
character and reputation.
Id., Ex. 6 at 2. The defendant thus showed that the plaintiff
was terminated for cause.
The plaintiff fails to meet her ultimate burden of persuasion.
She concedes a critical fact in this case: she "does not dispute
that she received overpayments from OWCP after she returned to
work." Pl.'s Opp.'n at 2. Rather, she contends that her receipt
of such payments should be excused because her "severe mental
instability" prevented her from "understand[ing] or
comprehend[ing] that she was receiving payments to which she was
not entitled."*fn10 Id. at 3; Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 7.
The plaintiff offers nothing more than excuses for her
behavior. She alleges that her mental illness "prevents her from
fully understanding written material and concentration" during
its, "acute phrase [sic]." Compl. ¶ 5. Her alleged mental
disability and its effects are not evidence sufficient to
withstand the defendant's showing. Furthermore, regardless of an
employee's disability, an employer may terminate that employee if
she has committed misconduct. See Weigert v. Georgetown Univ.,
120 F. Supp. 2d 1, 20 (D.D.C. 2000).
Neither the plaintiff's affidavit nor other documentary
evidence attacks the defendant's neutral explanation for her
termination. Nor does the plaintiff present any evidence of the defendant's intentional discrimination against her. The defendant
shows that there are no genuine issues of material fact in
dispute and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
The defendant's motion for summary judgment is accordingly
granted. An order directing the parties in a manner consistent
with this Memorandum Opinion is issued separately on this 13th
day of December, 2005.
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