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DEFRIES v. HAARHUES

January 31, 1980

VIRGINIA E. DEFRIES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CAL C. HAARHUES, WILLIAM BOLGER, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS THE POSTMASTER GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE AND THE UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baker, District Judge.

  JUDGMENT

This is an action under the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, (ADEA) 29 U.S.C. § 633a(a) & (c). The plaintiff claims that in May, 1977, she was a qualified employee of the United States Postal Service and an applicant for promotion to the job of multiple position letter sorting machine (MPLSM) supervisor in the Champaign, Illinois, Post Office. She further claims that she was denied that promotion, although she was qualified, because she was then 50 years of age.

The plaintiff seeks injunctive relief by promotion to the position of supervisor in the Postal Service and recovery of pay differential between that position and the position she held as clerk. She also seeks to recover attorneys fees and expenses.

Jurisdiction is based upon 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

In addition, the parties have stipulated that the plaintiff has fulfilled the statutory prerequisite for filing suit in this court under 29 U.S.C. § 633a(a). I assume, therefore, it is agreed that the plaintiff has exhausted the necessary administrative remedies before applying here for relief.

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

The court, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52, makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

29 U.S.C. § 633a provides in pertinent part:

  "All personnel actions affecting employees or
  applicants for employment who are at least 40
  years of age . . . in the United States Postal
  Service . . . shall be made free from any
  discrimination based on age."

The Congressional statement of purpose is contained in § 621: "It is therefore the purpose of this chapter to promote employment of older persons based on their ability rather than age; . . ."

In an action under the ADEA, the plaintiff has the burden of proving each of the following propositions by a preponderance of the evidence: First, that the plaintiff was an employee of the defendant within the statutorily protected age group; second, that a job vacancy existed to which the plaintiff sought promotion by the defendant; third, that the plaintiff was qualified for promotion to the vacancy; and fourth, that the plaintiff's age was a determining factor in the defendant's failure to promote her.

To prove that age was a determining factor in the defendant's failure to promote her, the plaintiff must persuade the court that age was more than a passing consideration on the part of the defendants. Age must have been a substantial and motivating factor in the consideration of the defendants and, but for the plaintiff's age, she would have been promoted. Loeb v. Textron, Inc., 600 F.2d 1003 (1st Cir. 1979).

The allocation of the burden of proof in an age discrimination case is identical to that found in a Title VII sex or race discrimination case. That burden is described in McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). The language in Mt. Healthy City Board of Ed. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274 at 287, 97 S.Ct. 568 at 576, 50 L.Ed.2d 471 seems applicable:

  Initially, in this case, the burden was properly
  placed upon the respondent [the plaintiff here]
  to show that his conduct was constitutionally
  protected, and that this conduct was a
  `substantial factor,' — or, to put it in other
  words, that it was a `motivating factor' in the
  Board's decision not to rehire him. Respondent
  having carried that burden, however, the District
  Court should have gone on to determine whether the
  Board had shown by a preponderance of evidence that
  it would have reached the same decision as to
  respondent's reemployment even in the absence of
  the protected conduct.

In this case, for the plaintiff to succeed, the evidence must show that but for her age she would have received the appointment.

The position of MPLSM supervisor requires the ability to supervise a mechanic and a team of 18 operators working at a high rate of speed. The machine is a huge mechanism programmed by a computer with 12 operator consoles. It has two working sides. The operators sit on the side of the machine into which letters are loaded. By keying devices activated by the operators, the letters are sorted and dispatched to bins on the opposite side of the machine where other team personnel remove the sorted letters and send them on to further distribution.

The supervisor must see to it that the loading ledges for each operator are kept full; that the letters in the bins are removed promptly for distribution; and that each member of the team works rapidly. Letters pass through each operator's console at the rate of approximately 60 per minute. The supervisor must coordinate the operation so that it is smooth and continuous. To that end, the supervisor "edits" the work of the operators. A dozen times during the shift, the supervisor takes a test reading from the LSM which indicates the speed and accuracy of the operators.

It is clear from the evidence that the postal authorities knew that Champaign was to receive a letter sorting machine at least two years before the machine went into operation in 1977.

The Postmaster testified that the Post Office System began using the machine some 20 years earlier and that gradually the use of the LSM spread from the large urban areas to the less densely populated areas.

In early 1976, the defendants began to prepare for the coming of the machine and made staffing plans for the training of ...


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