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Tyson v. Brennan

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 27, 2017

HOWARD T. TYSON, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
MEGAN J. BRENNAN, Postmaster General, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KETANJI BROWN JACKSON United States District Judge.

         Pro se plaintiff Howard T. Tyson, Sr. is an employee of the United States Postal Service (“USPS” or “Postal Service”) who contends that the Postal Service discriminated against him on the basis of his religion when he was reassigned to another duty location and was prevented from returning because the open position at his original station was rescinded. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 14, ¶¶ 1-12, 49-53.) Tyson has filed the instant employment discrimination action against Defendant Megan Brennan, the U.S. Postmaster General (in her official capacity), and although the complaint is less than clear about the legal basis for the claim alleged, the Court presumes that Tyson is proceeding under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17, as he states in a later filing. (See Pl.'s Mot. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss or Summ. J. (“Pl.'s Opp'n”), ECF No. 20, at 20 (“Plaintiff is suing the defendant for religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964[.]”))[1]

         Before this Court at present is USPS's motion to dismiss Tyson's complaint, or in the alternative, motion for summary judgment. (See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Am. Compl., or, in the Alternative, for Summ. J. (“Def.'s Mot.”), ECF No. 15, at 1-2; Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. (“Def.'s Mem.”), ECF No. 15, at 5-24). USPS argues that because the appointment that was allegedly rescinded due to religious discrimination was nothing more than a lateral transfer, Tyson's complaint fails to plead specific facts showing that Tyson suffered an adverse action. (See Def.'s Mem. at 16-17.) USPS further maintains that dismissal is warranted because the complaint lacks facts that demonstrate that USPS actually rescinded the position on account of Tyson's religion. (See Id. at 17-18.) In the alternative, USPS contends that the Court should enter summary judgment in its favor, because it has proffered a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for having rescinded the position-namely, that the position announcement was posted in error. (See Id. at 19.)

         For the reasons explained below, this Court will decline USPS's invitation to treat its pending motion as one for summary judgment at this early stage of the case, and with respect to the merits of the motion to dismiss, the Court concludes that the allegations contained in Tyson's amended complaint are sufficient to state a plausible claim for discrimination under governing D.C. Circuit precedent. Accordingly, USPS's motion will be DENIED. A separate Order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion will follow.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Relevant Facts

         According to the complaint, Tyson-who self-identifies as a Christian-was working at the government mails facility at 3300 V Street, Northeast in Washington, D.C. in 2010, when Cecil Harriston, the plant manager, “approached [him] and told [him] to turn [his] gospel music down[.]” (Am. Compl. ¶ 1; see also Id. ¶ 49.) The complaint further alleges that Tyson had “several confrontations” with Harriston “over the playing of the gospel music” (id. ¶ 3), and yet, according to the complaint, Harriston did not “say anything to the other employees[] who play[ed] secular music . . . in [the same] work area” (id. ¶ 2).

         Tyson maintains that his “job was abolished on or about[] April 11, 2011, ” and that he “was transferred to the [Curseen-Morris Processing and Distribution Center] to continue employment” with the Postal Service. (Id. ¶ 3.) The complaint alleges that, following this transfer, Tyson retained “retreat rights”-that is, the right to fill a position that becomes vacant at his original facility. (Pl.'s Opp'n at 5; see also Am. Compl. ¶¶ 6-8.) When Tyson learned in 2014 that a mail-handler position at the government mails facility was posted due to another employee's departure (the complaint refers to this as a “new [] position” or a “retreated position” (see, e.g., Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 14)), Tyson conferred with his union representative regarding his rights with respect to the new position, and on May 19, 2014, Tyson was allegedly “given a letter indicating[] the offer of retreat[, ] which he accepted.” (Id. ¶ 11; see also Id. ¶¶ 4- 10.) Two days later, however, Tyson was purportedly told that the new position had been rescinded. (See Id. ¶ 12.)

         Tyson subsequently made a number of inquiries regarding the rescission of the new position (see Id. ¶¶ 12-24), and the complaint alleges that the Postmaster ultimately told him to report to the new position at the government mails facility (see id. ¶ 31). But when he did so, Tyson again came into contact with Harriston, who allegedly told Tyson “that he had no position for [Tyson]” (id. ¶ 36), and instructed Tyson to report back to the Curseen-Morris Processing and Distribution Center (see Id. ¶¶ 38-45.)

         B. Procedural History

         On August 17, 2016, Tyson initiated the instant pro se lawsuit. (See Compl., ECF No. 1.) Tyson filed the operative amended complaint on November 28, 2016 (see Am. Compl.), which mooted the Postal Service's motion to dismiss his original complaint (see Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 9; Min. Order of Dec. 22, 2016). In his Amended Complaint, Tyson alleges “that plant manager Harriston[] did not want [Tyson] employed at the government mails facility[] because while employed there previously, Tyson was playing his Gospel music and exercising his religious rights as a Christian.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 49.) He further maintains that rescission of the position “was a direct result of plant manager Harriston['s] intervention” because Harriston allegedly “did not want [Tyson] there, exercising his religious beliefs.” (Id. ¶ 53.) As relief, Tyson seeks the “out of schedu[le] pay” that he allegedly lost as a result of the rescission of the new position. (Id. at 13.)

         The Postal Service has moved to dismiss Tyson's amended complaint. (See Def.'s Mem.) USPS argues that Tyson's complaint contains insufficient facts, because Tyson “does not allege any facts from which to infer that his denial of a lateral transfer to the government mails facility had any effect on the terms, conditions, or privileges of [his] employment.” (Def.'s Mem. at 17.) The Postal Service further argues that Tyson has failed to plead sufficient facts establishing the requisite causation for a religious discrimination claim; to this end, USPS characterizes Tyson's allegation that “the manager at the government mails facility did not want Plaintiff to work there because Plaintiff is a Christian” as nothing more than a “legal conclusion” (id.), and argues that Tyson “does not even allege that [it was] the manager [who] made the decision to deny [him] a later[al] transfer” (id. at 18). USPS's motion is ripe for this Court's consideration. (See Reply in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. (“Def.'s Reply”), ECF No. 21; Pl.'s Surreply, ECF No. 22.)[2]

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Motions To Dismiss Under Federal Rule Of Civil ...


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