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Clayborne v. Potter

September 11, 2006

VIVIAN CLAYBORNE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN E. POTTER, POSTMASTER GENERAL, UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Vivian Clayborne suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, an eye condition which has progressed over the years so that she is now almost completely blind without assistive devices. This condition made it increasingly difficult for her to fulfill the functions of her job as a mail processing clerk with the United States Postal Service ("USPS"). As a result, USPS relieved Ms. Clayborne of many of her duties and assigned her solely to stack and clear empty bins. Nonetheless, Ms. Clayborne began to have accidents at work that led to injuries to herself and that were attributed by her supervisor to her sight problems. Ultimately, USPS decided that Ms. Clayborne was a danger to herself because of her near-blindness and placed her on sick leave. USPS also referred her to the USPS District Reasonable Accommodation Committee ("DRAC"). With input and assistance from the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, USPS returned Ms. Clayborne to work a year later with a special assistive device (essentially a powerful light and super magnifying glass), to work in a different position in the Registered Mail operations manually sorting mail.

Ms. Clayborne brought this suit against John E. Potter, Postmaster General, in his capacity as representative of USPS, alleging disability discrimination and a failure to accommodate her physical disability in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Rehab Act"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 791 et seq. USPS moves to dismiss or for summary judgment. Because USPS did not discriminate against Ms. Clayborne, and in fact it accommodated her disability, the Court will grant its motion for summary judgment.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The facts are presented in USPS's Statement of Material Facts For Which There Is Not [sic] Genuine Dispute ("Def.'s Facts") and the attached Exhibits ("Def.'s Ex. " "). Because Ms. Clayborne does not dispute any of these facts, they are taken as conceded.*fn1

In any event, the facts set forth by USPS are supported and corroborated by contemporary documentation.

Ms. Clayborne was employed as a mail processing clerk with USPS starting in 1986. Def.'s Ex. 1. Her duties as a mail processing clerk included: 1) setting up and preparing the work area and equipment; 2) loading mail onto automated equipment and culling out non-processable items; 3) sweeping mail from bins and stackers; 4) stopping the equipment when the operation is complete; 5) clearing jams in the equipment; and 6) removing sorted mail from the bins and placing it into the appropriate trays. Def.'s Ex. 2.

Ms. Clayborne was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in 1987 and still has that condition today. Def's Facts ¶ 2; Def.'s Ex. 3. Over the years, this condition caused continuing deterioration in her eyesight, making it increasingly difficult for her to fulfill the functions of her job.

Id. ¶ 2 n.1; Def.'s Ex. 3. As a result, starting in the fall of 2001, USPS assigned Ms. Clayborne fewer of the tasks that comprised the full range of duties of her position, until the only task assigned to Ms. Clayborne was the task of stacking and clearing empty bins. Def.'s Ex. 4. Eventually, Ms. Clayborne could no longer read the mail or distinguish red emergency lights on the equipment because of color-blindness. Def.'s Ex. 8.

Between January and July 2003, Ms. Clayborne had three accidents at work that led to injuries to herself and that were attributed by her supervisor to her sight problems. Def.'s Ex. 8.

Ms. Clayborne had an accident while entering the building for work on January 10, 2003 - her left foot hit the flower bed in front of the building and she suffered a bruised right leg, a scarred and swollen left knee, and a scarred left hand. Def.'s Ex. 5. On June 19, 2003, Ms. Clayborne twisted and injured her left ankle when she was walking to the time clock to begin work. Def.'s Ex. 6. These accidents caused Ms. Clayborne's supervisor, Michael Fair, to refer her for a fitness-for-duty exam. Def.'s Ex. 8. He completed a request for a fitness-for-duty exam, reporting that he believed she "might have visual, equilibrium, and or [sic] physical coordination problems. She had two similar accidents that resulted in injury. I want to prevent a reoccurrence that might result in another injury that may prove serious or even fatal." Id. After completing the request for an exam, Mr. Fair notified the Human Resources ("HR") Manager that Ms. Clayborne "had another accident that I [attribute] to deteriorating vision. She stated that on 7/16/03, while she was loading an All-purpose Container, she hit her head with a plastic tray." Def.'s Ex. 9; see also Def.'s Ex. 7.

In response to Mr. Fair's referral, on July 30, 2003, the Contract Medical Officer working for the USPS recommended that Ms. Clayborne receive an "escort into building [and] on[to] floor," as well as "continued accommodation at the worksite if possible, while awaiting completion of disability retirement process." Def.'s Ex. 10. Ultimately, USPS decided that Ms. Clayborne was a danger to herself because of her near-blindness. On September 17, 2003, USPS referred her to the DRAC, the reasonable accommodation committee. Def.'s Ex. 11. The DRAC is a multi-disciplinary task force that determines whether an employee qualifies for accommodation under the Rehab Act and determines what accommodation is required, including transfer or reassignment. Id.

On September 23, 2003, USPS placed Ms. Clayborne on sick leave. Def.'s Ex. 4. Ms. Clayborne alleges that "management forced her to complete a leave slip and told her not to return to work until further notice." Am. Compl. ¶ 4. Initially, Ms. Clayborne considered pursuing disability retirement. When she decided not to pursue retirement, the DRAC met with her to discuss her medical condition on February 13, 2004. Def.'s Ex. 11, Decl. of Toni Grier ("Grier Decl.") ¶ 3. The DRAC asked for updated medical information. Id. Receiving no answer, the DRAC sent a second request for information to Ms. Clayborne on February 25, 2004. Id. Thereafter, on March 24, 2004, the DRAC met with Ms. Clayborne and a vocational representative from the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind. Id. ¶ 4.

The DRAC met again on April 7, 2004, to consider alternative jobs that Ms. Clayborne could perform. Id. On June 21, 2004, representatives from the Lighthouse for the Blind conducted an on-site visit at USPS and reviewed the operation to determine what, if any, technological enhancements could be provided to assist Ms. Clayborne. Id. ¶ 5. On July 5, 2004, the Lighthouse for the Blind recommended that Ms. Clayborne could manually sort mail with the assistance of a device called an Olympia CCTV, essentially a strong light and super magnifying glass. Id. ¶ 6. Lighthouse for the Blind provided this equipment to the USPS in ...


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