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Lee T. Staropoli v. Patrick R. Donahoe

May 25, 2011

LEE T. STAROPOLI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PATRICK R. DONAHOE, POSTMASTER GENERAL, U.S. POSTAL SERVICE DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Beryl A. Howell United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

In this case, a former postal inspector brings suit against the U.S. Postal Service for alleged gender discrimination and retaliation. The defendant has moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiff's suit is barred because she failed to exhaust administrative remedies. For the reasons explained below, the defendant's motion is denied.

I.BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Lee Staropoli, who is female, formerly worked as a postal inspector, a law enforcement position within the U.S. Postal Service (the "Agency" or "USPS"). Complaint, ECF No. 1. In 1997, the Postal Inspection Service adopted a new pay scale requiring postal inspectors to work 50 hours per week. Compl. ¶ 9. According to Plaintiff Staropoli, the 50-hour requirement had a discriminatory disparate impact on female postal inspectors generally and "became burdensome and untenable" to her personally given her "family and childcare responsibilities and obligations." Id. ¶¶ 11-13. In 1999, the plaintiff wrote and circulated a proposal criticizing the new pay policy and suggesting alternative recommendations. Id. ¶¶ 14-19. The Agency declined to adopt the plaintiff's proposals. Id. ¶ 19. In February 2001, the plaintiff contacted the Agency's Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") office to file a complaint about the pay policy and, later that month, requested part-time employment, despite the 50-hour requirement. Id. ¶¶ 22-23.

In late April 2001, the plaintiff advised her supervisor that she could no longer work a 50-hour week, and in May 2001, she repeated her request for part-time employment and also requested a leave of absence because her previous request for part-time employment had not been granted. Id. ¶¶ 24-26. The Agency denied the plaintiff's requests for permission to work part-time or to take a leave of absence. Id. ¶ 27. Having failed to convince the Agency to modify its 50-hour requirement, the plaintiff simply stopped reporting to work at all in July 2001. Id. ¶ 28. Her supervisors informed her that she was absent without leave and ultimately terminated her as of December 3, 2001. Id. ¶¶ 35, 41.

The plaintiff claims that her termination following the adoption of the 50-hour rule constituted disparate treatment and disparate impact discrimination on the basis of sex as well as retaliation for her filing of an EEO complaint. Id. ¶¶ 46-69. As a result, the plaintiff claims that she suffered various injuries, including loss of salary, awards, benefits, and professional status, as well as "great emotional distress, including, but not limited to, insomnia, weight gain, Major Depressive Disorder, chronic fatigue, a miscarriage, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder." Id. ¶¶ 54, 61, 69. Sheseeks lost wages, compensatory damages, and injunctive and declaratory relief for the defendant's alleged violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Id. ¶ 1, "Relief Sought."

The defendant, the United States Postmaster General in his official capacity as head of the United States Postal Service, has moved to dismiss the complaint, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. The defendant's sole argument on this motion is that the plaintiff's lawsuit is foreclosed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies properly, which is a procedural requirement for bringing a Title VII suit. Accordingly, a brief review of the administrative process in this case is necessary.

The plaintiff filed an administrative complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on October 17, 2005.*fn1 Defs.' Statement of Material Facts as to Which There is No Genuine Dispute ("SMF") ¶ 1. A hearing on this complaint was held before an EEOC Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on June 6, 2007. SMF ¶ 2. On the same day as the hearing, the ALJ issued a bench decision dismissing the case on the merits. Id. ¶ 3. The plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the EEOC's Office of Federal Operations ("OFO") on August 4, 2008, more than a year after the ALJ's decision. Id. ¶ 4. Her appeal was dismissed as untimely by a ruling issued on December 3, 2008. Id. On December 22, 2008, the plaintiff moved for reconsideration of the denial of her appeal, and the OFO again denied the appeal on reconsideration on June 19, 2009. Id. ¶ 5. The plaintiff then brought this civil action on September 17, 2009. Id. ¶ 6. The defendant filed his motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment on May 13, 2010, and the parties completed the initial briefing on that motion on August 8, 2010.*fn2

On May 2, 2011, the Court directed the parties "to file supplemental briefing and any relevant factual materials addressing the prejudice, if any, suffered by the defendant due to the allegedly untimely delay in the plaintiff's administrative appeal." Minute Order dated May 2, 2011. The defendant responded to the Court's order on May 9, 2011, but did not identify any prejudice that resulted from the delay in the plaintiff's appeal. The plaintiff also filed supplemental briefing in response to the Court's order on May 23, 2011.

The defendant's motion, which is now before the Court, hinges on whether the plaintiff validly exhausted administrative remedies given her allegedly untimely administrative appeal.

II.DISCUSSION

A.Standards of Review and Regulatory Framework

1.Motion to Dismiss

To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a plaintiff need only plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face" and to "nudge[ ] [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). "[A] complaint [does not] suffice if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Instead, the complaint must plead facts that are more than "merely consistent with" a defendant's ...


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