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BAKER v. RUNYON

April 18, 1996

MITZI BAKER, Plaintiff,
v.
MARVIN T. RUNYON, in his official capacity as Postmaster General of the United States, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BOBRICK

 of Magistrate Judge Edward A. Bobrick

 Before the court is the motion of plaintiff Mitzi Baker for summary judgment on her claim for $ 275,000 in compensatory damages and $ 25,000 in punitive damages against defendant Marvin T. Runyon.

 I. BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff filed her complaint under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("1964 Act"), and the Civil Rights Reform Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a, et seq. ("1991 Act"), alleging sex discrimination and retaliation. She seeks both compensatory and punitive damages against her employer, the United States Postal Service ("Postal Service"). The Postal Service has admitted liability in this case and the only issue is the amount of damages to which plaintiff is entitled.

 This case stems from two administrative Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") complaints regarding sexual harassment on December 6, 1991, and November 25, 1992. The complaints were investigated and consolidated for an administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Following the hearing, on June 14, 1994, the ALJ issued a Findings and Recommended Decision. The ALJ found that plaintiff had been subject to sexual harassment in the form of a hostile work environment, violations of medical restrictions, unwelcome sexual advances, and slanderous remarks of a sexual nature. The ALJ recommended, inter alia, that the Postal Service pay plaintiff an award of compensatory damages. On August 8, 1994, the Postal Service adopted the ALJ's decision and awarded plaintiff $ 50,000 in damages and $ 23,000 in attorney's fees. Plaintiff accepted the portion of the award grounded in attorney's fees, but appealed the damages award to the EEOC's Office of Federal Operations on September 6, 1994. When she received no response from the EEOC, plaintiff filed the instant complaint on June 25, 1995--more than nine months after filing her EEOC appeal.

 A. Facts Underlying Complaint

 The defendant does not dispute the findings in the ALJ's Findings and Recommended Decision ("RD"). Accordingly, we draw our recitation of the underlying facts of this case from that document. Plaintiff's problems apparently began shortly after she received a requested assignment to the Graceland Annex Post Office in January of 1991. (RD at 8). She began to receive harassing and offensive phone calls, which she suspected were from a female coworker, Renee Hurley, regarding their involvement with a male coworker, Harold Grimette. (RD at 8). Plaintiff was also the victim of tampering at her work station in April of 1991. (RD at 8). She complained to the station manager, Robert Bisbee. (RD at 8). Hurley also began circulating a personal letter plaintiff had written to Grimette. (RD at 9). Plaintiff's supervisor, Rufus Moore, discussed and joked about the letter over the intercom. (RD at 9). Plaintiff again complained to Bisbee, but he propositioned her. (RD at 9).

 Hurley continued to taunt, threaten, and harass plaintiff at work, and plaintiff continued to complain to Bisbee, Moore, and another supervisor, Stanley Brown, without results. Indeed, Brown continued to assign plaintiff to work with Hurley. (RD at 10). Brown also rebuked plaintiff over the loudspeaker. (RD at 12). Plaintiff also complained to, but was ignored by, Bisbee's supervisor, Baily-El. (RD at 10). Her supervisors instead would subject her to sexual remarks. (RD at 12, 16, 18). She also requested a transfer from, and complained to, John Frencher, the director of field operations at the Main Post Office, but was dismissed as a troublemaker. (RD at 11). The supervisors at her station began to assign her the heaviest routes in retaliation for her complaints through the chain of command. (RD at 11-12). She was threatened with suspensions when she failed to complete those routes. (RD at 11). She was refused assistance on those routes although others were granted requests for assistance. (RD at 13). Others were also not threatened with discipline when they brought back mail undelivered. (RD at 13). Plaintiff contacted EEO counselors on two occasions--following Bisbee's unwelcome advance in May of 1991, and in November of 1991 regarding a seven-day suspension and other harassment.

 On January 15, 1992--a particularly cold day--Bisbee or Brown assigned plaintiff to a route with an unheated Postal Service vehicle. (RD at 13). The plaintiff complained to Bisbee, who merely laughed. (RD at 13). Plaintiff had to seek medical treatment for frostbite, which developed into plantar fascitis, a foot condition that required surgery and plaintiff's use of a cane. (RD at 13). Following this incident, plaintiff had certain medical restrictions that necessitated her being placed on light duty. Bisbee, however, told her she could not remain on light duty, and Brown assigned her to heavy mail routes outside of her restrictions and despite the fact that lighter routes were available. (RD at 14). These types of assignments apparently continued until plaintiff was finally transferred in August of 1992. (RD at 14-16).

 As a result of these assignments, plaintiff's physical condition worsened. (RD at 17). The stress resulting from the situation prompted plaintiff to seek counselling at family clinic and an employee assistance program. (RD at 14). Plaintiff experienced severe mood changes and was depressed for long periods of time. (Plaintff's Motion for Summary Judgment, Ex. 11). She becomes easily upset, breaks down into crying spells, and is unable to enjoy herself or normal social contact with others. (Id.). The ALJ concluded that plaintiff "was subjected to an unwelcome hostile environment of sexual and other harassment and acts of reprisal which were inextricably caused by and were the direct result of the egregious hostile environment that the [Postal Service] failed to remedy . . ." (RD at 38). Whereas the Postal Service "did not take prompt and sufficient action to correct the situation, and whereas as a result of that the [plaintiff] suffered physical and mental harm, stress, mental anguish and grief as well as various medical and monetary losses," the ALJ recommended that the Postal Service pay plaintiff "an award of compensatory damages for any such harm or loss incurred" after November 21, 1991, the effective date of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. (RD at 38); 42 U.S.C. § 1981a.

 B. Parties' Positions

 Defendant submits that its administrative determination to award plaintiff $ 50,000 in compensatory damages is more than adequate. Defendant argues that punitive damages are unavailable; an argument we address and dismiss in a separate order. Defendant also argues that plaintiff's only physical injury--due to the frostbite she suffered--has been and will be compensated under the Federal Employee Compensation Act ("FECA") and should not be considered in assessing her compensatory damages. Finally, defendant asks us to compare its $ 50,000 award with awards in comparable Title VII cases in this district which suggest that $ 50,000 is the upper limit of the range of awards. Defendant opines that the facts of this case are nowhere near the magnitude of the cases upholding or assessing $ 50,000 ...


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