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Staropoli v. Donahoe

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 28, 2013

Lee T. STAROPOLI, Plaintiff,
Patrick R. DONAHOE, Postmaster General of the United States, Defendant.

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Camilla C. McKinney, McKinney & Associates, PLLC, Alexandria, VA, for Plaintiff.

Charlotte A. Abel, Wynne Patrick Kelly, United States Attorney's Office, Washington, DC, for Defendant.


BERYL A. HOWELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Lee T. Staropoli, a former Postal Inspector, brings this lawsuit against the Defendant Postmaster General of the United States, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq., alleging that she was subject to disparate treatment discrimination on the basis of sex (Count I), disparate impact discrimination on the basis of sex (Count II), and retaliation for engaging in protected activity (Count III). Complaint (" Compl." ), ECF No. 1, at 9-14. This Court earlier denied the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, finding that the plaintiff exhausted her administrative remedies. Order (May 25, 2011), ECF No. 24; Memorandum Opinion (May 25, 2011), ECF No. 23. Pending before the Court is the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 33. The plaintiff opposes summary judgment as to Counts I and III, Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 39, at 1-2, but agrees to a voluntary dismissal of Count II, id. at 2 n. 1. Accordingly, the Court grants the Defendant's Motion for

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Summary Judgment as conceded by the plaintiff as to Count II, id., and, for the reasons explained below, grants the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on the merits as to Counts I and III.[1]


A. Factual Background

1. Plaintiff's Employment in the Postal Service

The plaintiff was an employee of the United States Postal Service, beginning in 1987, until her termination in 2001. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 41, Defendant's Answer (" Answer" ), ECF No. 25, ¶¶ 4, 41. The plaintiff entered the United States Postal Service as a letter carrier in the Boston, Massachusetts area, and was later promoted and became a Postal Inspector in Buffalo, New York. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts of Which There is No Genuine Dispute in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. (" Def.'s Facts" ), ECF No. 33-2, ¶¶ 1, 3.[2] In 1992, the plaintiff became a Polygraph

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Examiner for the Postal Service's law enforcement agency, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (" USPIS" ), and, after extensive training, worked as a Polygraph Examiner in Boston. Id. at ¶ 5.

In 1998, the plaintiff's husband, another U.S. government employee, was transferred to the Washington, D.C. area for work. Id. at ¶ 7. The plaintiff then applied for, and received, a position as a Polygraph Examiner in the Washington, D.C. area. Id; see also Transcript of Deposition of Lee Staropoli (Dec. 14, 2011), ECF No. 33-3 (" Staropoli Dep." ) at 25:8-25.

In 1997, before the plaintiff's transfer to the Washington, D.C. area, USPIS implemented a new pay schedule for all Postal Inspectors called " the law enforcement availability pay," or " LEAP," whereby law enforcement officers, including polygraph examiners, receive a 25 percent pay increase for working fifty-hour weeks. Compl. ¶ 9; Answer ¶ 9; Def.'s Facts. ¶ 8. USPIS developed the LEAP program in response to a congressional mandate in 39 U.S.C. § 1003(c), enacted as part of the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 1997, Pub.L. No. 104-208, 110 Stat. 3009, 380-81 (1996). Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. (" Def.'s Mem" ), ECF No. 33-1, at 21-22 (quoting Powell v. U.S. Postal Serv., No. 99-3320, 2000 U.S.App. LEXIS 2090 (Fed.Cir.2000) (per curiam)). Specifically, section 1003(c) required that " [c]ompensation and benefits for all Postal Inspectors ... be maintained on a standard of comparability to the compensation and benefits paid for comparable levels of work in the executive branch of the Government outside of the Postal Service." Pub. L. No. 104-208, 110 Stat. 3009, 380-81 (enacting 39 U.S.C. § 1003(c)). Pursuant to this statutory mandate, a Postal Service task force studied the " General Schedule" (" GS" ) pay system used in nearly every other federal law enforcement agency, and after concluding that a direct conversion to that pay system was impossible, designed and implemented regulations, including LEAP, to fulfill the congressional mandate. See Powell, 2000 U.S.App. LEXIS 2090 at *2-3. LEAP governed the plaintiff's salary during her entire Washington, D.C. area tenure with USPIS. See Compl. ¶¶ 9, 13; Answer ¶ 9; Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 10, 12.

Although she inquired about part-time employment possibilities at the time she accepted the transfer offer, Staropoli Dep. at 39:14-17, the plaintiff understood that her new position would require full-time, fifty-hour weeks pursuant to the LEAP program. Id. at 40:6-9.

While USPIS originally hired the plaintiff to conduct polygraph examinations only in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia, Def.'s Facts ¶ 11, Staropoli Dep. at 27:13-22, USPIS expanded her geographic responsibilities in 1998 to include North Carolina and South Carolina, following the illness and death of another USPIS polygraph examiner, Def.'s Facts ¶ 13; Staropoli Dep. at 33:2-19. In three years of covering these geographic areas, the plaintiff never requested a decrease in her travel. Id. at 36:16-18.

Indeed, after her transfer, the plaintiff successfully worked the required fifty-hour weeks for three years. See id. at 40:10-17. This means, as the defendant points out, that the plaintiff was able to sustain a 50 hour-a-week schedule after " 1) the institution [in 1997] of LEAP pay and its 50 hour workweek requirement, 2) her selection for a position in Washington and subsequent

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relocation from Boston [in 1998]; 3) the birth of her first child [in 1997]; and 4) the expansion of her geographic region of responsibility to include North Carolina and South Carolina [in 1998]." Def.'s Reply in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. (" Def.'s Reply" ), ECF No. 42, at 6. At some point, however, the plaintiff states that the " 50 hour work week became burdensome and untenable given Ms. Staropoli's family and childcare responsibilities and obligations." Compl. ¶ 13; Def.'s Facts ¶ 12. Notably, the plaintiff used more sick leave in 2000, her third year in the Washington, D.C. area than she had in prior years, Def.'s Facts ¶ 14; Staropoli Dep. at 40:15-17, and, in 2001, the plaintiff states that she was not able to work 50 hours a week because she " was emotionally, physically, mentally exhausted." Staropoli Dep. at 40:18-23. At that point, the plaintiff argues that she, on her own behalf, " made a passionate plea to officials in the Postal Inspection Service for part-time employment." Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (" Pl.'s Opp'n" ), ECF No. 39-1, at 4.

2. Plaintiff's Advocacy for Part-Time Employment and More Family-Friendly Policies in USPIS

Following her transfer, the plaintiff advocated for certain changes in working conditions— notably, a part-time employment program for USPIS— and even co-authored, in 1999, a detailed, eighty-five page proposal for creating a more family-friendly culture in the agency. Compl. ¶ 14; Ans. ¶ 14; see also Lee T. Staropoli & Rose M. Papa, The Heart of the Matter: Creating a Family Friendly Work Culture in the Inspection Service (" The Heart of the Matter" ), Nov. 29, 1999, ECF No. 33-4.[3]

The Heart of the Matter stated, inter alia, that " [p]ressures to meet the demands of family, work, continuing education, volunteer and charitable activities, spiritual pursuits, and recreation present some of the greatest challenges confronting the average American worker," and that " [t]he pressures facing the federal law enforcement community are even greater." Cover Letter from Plaintiff and Rose M. Papa to Kenneth Weaver, Chief Postal Inspector (Nov. 29, 1999), in The Heart of the Matter at LTS 1521. The document, based in part on written testimonials from women at USPIS,[4] went on to " propose [ ] policies of work and family life initiatives for possible implementation within the Postal Inspection Service" and explained " how the proposals advance the Inspection Service mission and embrace the USPS corporate goals and vision." Id.

The Chief Postal Inspector, Kenneth C. Weaver, considered The Heart of the Matter, as did USPIS' Executive Committee. Compl. ¶¶ 15-16, Answer ¶¶ 15-16. The Executive Committee apparently rejected the proposal in their May 16-17, 2000 meeting, and the Chief Postal Inspector, on August 9, 2000, notified the plaintiff that USPIS would not implement the recommendations in the Heart of the Matter. Compl. ¶¶ 15-19; Answer ¶¶ 15-19.

Around the time that USPIS decided not to implement the proposals in The Heart of the Matter, and after the plaintiff had made clear that she was advocating for more family friendly policies at USPIS,

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the plaintiff requested and received a recommendation from her supervisor, Roy Geffen, the Inspector in Charge. The letter was glowing, and apparently a heartfelt testament to the plaintiff's excellent work at USPIS. See Letter of Recommendation from Roy Geffen, Inspector in Charge, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, regarding Lee T. Staropoli (Oct. 24, 2000), ECF No. 33-5 (noting, inter alia, that the plaintiff " has demonstrated a high skill level and excellent work ethic, and has become a top-notch examiner" and that her " ethics, integrity, commitment and loyalty are above reproach" ).

Although the Executive Committee had rejected The Heart of the Matter proposal, the plaintiff continued to advocate for workplace changes, and in particular for a part-time employment program, as well as for part-time employment for herself. On December 13, 2000, for example, the plaintiff wrote a letter to the Chief Postal Inspector " requesting that the Agency issue a decision concerning her recommendations and the Proposal." Compl. ¶ 20, Answer ¶ 20. On January 16, 2001, Chief Postal Inspector responded, " reiterating the Agency's position rejecting the proposal." Compl. ¶ 21; Answer ¶ 21. Furthermore, although USPIS still did not offer a part time employment program, the plaintiff, on February 26, 2001, sent a letter to Chief Postal Inspector Kenneth Weaver, through her first-line supervisor James Wachuta, requesting part-time employment in order to meet her family responsibilities. Letter from Lee Staropoli, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, to Kenneth Weaver, Chief Postal Inspector, U.S. Postal Inspection Service (Feb. 26, 2001), ECF No. 39-8.

On February 9, 2001, the plaintiff also initiated an " individual and class complaint alleging that [USPIS'] pay policy discriminated against female Postal Inspectors." Compl. ¶ 22; see also Answer ¶ 22; Pl.'s Opp'n at 17; 1st EEO Compl., ECF No. 39-7. (This is not the EEO proposal underlying the instant action.) The Counsel/Inspector in Charge responded to that Complaint internally, noting that " [t]he ‘ allegations' [made in the complaint] are not at all supported by a factual basis upon which we could provide an intelligent response. There's absolutely no basis articulated for even considering at this point designation of class action status." E-mail from Lawrence Katz, Counsel/Inspector in Charge, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, to Deborah L. Lewis, U.S. Postal Inspection Service (May 8, 2001 8:37 a.m.), ECF No. 39-7, at 11. Although not formally responding to the Complaint, USPIS did offer to send a member of its Executive Committee to meet with the plaintiff to discuss her concerns, and noted that " Ms. Staropoli has been an advocate of part-time employment for postal inspectors." Id.

In March, 2001, the plaintiff took two weeks of sick leave, providing medical documentation that the plaintiff had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Pl.'s Opp'n at 18.[5]

In April, 2001, the plaintiff again requested part-time employment status by contacting Acting Deputy Chief Inspector Rowan. Pl.'s Opp'n at 19. On April 24, 2001, the plaintiff also informed the Assistant Inspector-in-Charge, James Wachuta, that she " could no longer work a 50-hour week due to the Agency's discriminatory pay policy and [the] Agency's failure to implement the Proposal to allow a part-time program schedule to assist women with family and childcare responsibilities." Compl. ¶ 24; see also Answer ¶ 24.

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On May 1, 2001, the plaintiff again requested part-time employment or an unpaid leave of absence from the Chief Postal Inspector, Kenneth Weaver. Compl. ¶ 25; Answer ¶ 25; Def.'s Facts ¶ 21. On that same date, she also requested a leave of absence from her second-line supervisor, Geffen, " because the ...

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