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LEWIS v. HENDERSON

January 14, 2003

XAVIER J. LEWIS, SR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILLIAM J. HENDERSON, POSTMASTER GENERAL, UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, United States District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

AMY J. ST. EVE, Judge:

Plaintiff Xavier J. Lewis, an African-American male, suffers from a learning disability and a shoulder injury. He claims that the United States Postal Service failed to accommodate his mental and physical disabilities, discriminated against him because of his race, retaliated against him after he asked for an accommodation, and retaliated against him after he filed an EEOC complaint against Defendant. Defendant has moved for summary judgment on all counts. For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's motion is granted.

UNDISPUTED FACTS

I. Lewis' Mental And Physical Limitations.

Lewis cannot read or write due to a learning disability. (R. 56-1, Pl.'s Supp. Statement of Material Facts ¶ 2.) Lewis' learning disability also affects his analytic reasoning and orientation. (Id. ¶ 3.) Because of his mental condition, Lewis needs assistance in order to care for himself on a daily basis. (Id. ¶ 4.) At the time that Defendant hired Lewis, it knew of his mental limitations. (Id. ¶ 7.)

As discussed in detail below, Lewis injured his shoulder during his employment with Defendant. This injury limited his ability to perform tasks at work. After the injury, he was not able to lift his arms above shoulder level or lift items that weighed more than 20 pounds. (R. 56-1, Pl.'s Supp. Statement of Add'l Material Facts ¶ 12.) The injury also restricted him from performing some household tasks, including mowing the law, making home repairs, carrying groceries, mopping the basement and working in the yard. (Valerie Andrews-Lewis Dep. at 43.)*fn1 Despite his mental and physical maladies, Lewis is able to complete some basic functions, including brushing his teeth, dressing himself, walking, seeing, hearing, and speaking. (R. 36-1, Def's Statement of Material Facts ¶ 44.)

II. Lewis' Employment With Defendant

Lewis began working for the Postal Service in December 1994 as a laborer/custodian at its Processing and Distribution Center in Carol Stream, Illinois. (Id. ¶¶ 2-3.) Throughout Lewis' employment with the Postal Service, Paul Kaminsky was his supervisor. (Id. ¶ 7.)

While working as a laborer/custodian, Lewis' duties generally included maintaining and cleaning the exterior and interior areas of the facility and making minor repairs to the building and equipment. (R. 12-1, First Am. Compl. ¶ 10.) Although the parties disagree as to many of Lewis' specific duties, they do agree that he was at least responsible for "cleaning, scrubbing, waxing, polishing floors, washing walls and ceilings, dusting, cleaning hardware and toilet fixtures, washing windows, caring for lawns and shrubs, [and] cleaning sidewalks and driveways by removing ashes, snow and ice." (R. 36-1, Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 5; R. 45-1, Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 5.) In order to complete his necessary tasks as laborer/custodian, Lewis had to be able to lift up to 70 pounds, carry heavy loads of more than 45 pounds and reach above his shoulder. (Id. ¶ 6.)*fn2

III. Lewis First Injures Himself.

Lewis says he injured his shoulders as a result of lulling flattened or empty cardboard boxes on December 22, 1995. (R. 36-1, Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 9.) He did not inform anyone about this alleged injury until almost eight months later in October 1996, however, when he refused to lift something heavy. (Id.) Kaminsky thereafter instructed Lewis to obtain a doctor's statement in order for the Postal Service to relieve him of the lifting duty. (Id. ¶ 11.) Lewis returned with a letter from his doctor that stated that Lewis had tendinitis in both of his shoulders and that he should not lift any object over 20 pounds. (Id. ¶ 12.) Lewis then requested a temporary light duty assignment. (R. 12-1, First Am. Compl. ¶ 25.)*fn3

IV. Defendant Issues Lewis Temporary Light Duty Assignments.

On October 9, 1996, Defendant approved a temporary light duty assignment request for Lewis for October 7 to October 21, 1996, restricting him from lifting more than 20 pounds. (R. 13-1, First Am. Compl. ¶ 26.) A few weeks later, the Postal Service transferred Lewis to bathroom duty so he would not be required to vacuum or lift his arms to dust the offices. (R. 36-1, Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 14.) Lewis' duties while on this assignment included policing the bathrooms for garbage, cleaning the doors and windows and mopping the corridors. (R. 56-1, Pl.'s Supp. Statement of Add'l Material Facts ¶ 13; R. 45-1, Pl's Statement of Material Facts, Ex. 1.)

Kaminsky explained these responsibilities to Lewis and told him to call for help if he encountered a garbage bag that was too heavy for him. (R. 36-1, Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 15.) Lewis believed that he knew which items on bathroom duty weighed more than 20 pounds. (Id. ¶ 17.) After the meeting with Kaminsky, Lewis was able to explain to his doctors what his work duties were. (Id., Ex. 7 at 95-96.) They, in turn, explained to Lewis his restrictions. (Id.)

On November 26, 1996 and again on January 30, 1997, the Postal Service approved of temporary light duty assignment for Lewis. The first, effective from November 23 to December 25, 1996, restricted Lewis from shoveling snow or lifting more than 25 pounds. (R. 36-1, Def's Statement of Material Facts ¶ 19.) The second ran from January 29 to February 28, 1997. It also restricted Lewis from shoveling snow, but it lowered the weight restriction to 20 pounds. (Id. at ¶ 20.)

V. Lewis' Injuries Continue.

Lewis suffered an injury on February 20, 1997, when he strained his chest-wall pulling a garbage bag out of a container. (R. 36-1, Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 21.) On March 3, 1997, he provided Defendant's Medical Unit with a Return to Work Verification form, along with a diagnosis by his physician that Lewis had bursitis in his shoulders and bronchial asthma. (Id. ¶ 22.) The physician also stated that Lewis should remain on light duty, with no mopping or "high lifting" of anything that weighed more than 20 pounds. (Id.) On March 4, 1997, Defendant made a decision not to adhere to the physician's recommendation and did not issue a light duty assignment in compliance with it. (Id.)

Lewis claims that he was injured on the job again on March 5, 1997. (R. 36-1, Def's Statement of Material Facts ¶ 23.) Defendant issued Lewis a warning on March 21, 1997, because it believed he was performing his duties in an unsafe manner. (Id. ¶ 24.) The warning cited his February 20th injury and charged him with intentionally exceeding his restricted lifting limit. (Id.) Lewis responded by filing a union grievance. (Id.) Eventually, Defendant settled the grievance by reducing the warning to an "official discussion." (Id.)

On March 24. 1997, Lewis suffered another on-the-job injury. (R. 36-1, Def's Statement of Material Facts ¶ 25.) That injury resulted in Defendant issuing more light duty assignments. The first assignment, effective March 24 to April 24, 1997, restricted Lewis from lifting, pushing or carrying anything that weighed more than 20 pounds. (Id. ¶ 26.) The second assignment, which ran April 10 to April 24, 1997, raised the weight limit to 25 pounds. (Id. ¶ 27.) The third assignment, effective April 23 to May 23, 1997, added shoveling, mopping, and "working in dusty areas without adequate ventilation" to his restrictions. (Id. ¶ 29.) The fourth assignment, in operation from May 21 to June 21, 1997, called for "no lifting, pushing, pulling, shoveling over 20 lbs." (Id. ¶ 30.) It also restricted his time spent continuously mopping to 10 minutes. (Id.) On June 23, 1997, Defendant issued a fifth and final light duty assignment that merely continued the restrictions that were in effect until July 19, 1997. (Id. ¶ 37.) In August 1997, Lewis' physician eliminated his lifting restrictions. (R. 56-1, Pl.'s Supp. Statement of Add'l Material Facts ¶ 12.)

VI. Interview With EEOC And Threat of Termination.*fn4

On May 1, 1997, an EEOC counselor/investigator wrote a letter to Lewis on Postal Service letterhead to "discuss the alleged discriminatory matters you raised on your EEO request for precomplaint counseling forms." (R. 56-1, Pl.'s Supp. Statement of Add'l Material Facts, Ex. P.) The EEOC representative sent a copy of the letter to the Manager of Maintenance. (Id.) On May 6, 1997, Defendant's Manager of Processing and Distribution said to Lewis, "I just found out about everything; you are not going to be here much longer, I'm telling everyone to fire you." (R. 36-1, Def's Statement of Material Facts ¶ 28.)

VII. The Light Duty Committee's Actions And Lewis' Termination.

Defendant has a Light Duty Committee that reviews light duty usage at the Carol Stream office, ensures that management properly approves temporary light duty in accordance with regulations, and determines whether employees are abusing temporary light duty privileges. (R. 36-1, Def's Statement of Material Facts ΒΆ 33.) On June 12, 1997, the Light Duty Committee issued a letter scheduling an interview with Lewis for the next day to review the status of his light duty ...


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