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PALMER v. PRINCIPI

April 16, 2004.

FOSTER PALMER, Plaintiffs
v.
ANTHONY J. PRINCIPI, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Department of Veterans Affairs, Defender



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ARLANDER KEYS, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Foster Palmer, brought this Title VII action against Defendant, Anthony J. Principi, Secretary of Veterans Affairs (the VA). The VA now moves for summary judgment. For the reasons below, the court grants the VA's motion.

FACTS

  This lawsuit arises out of the circumstances surrounding Foster Palmer's retirement from the VA after thirty years of service. During his tenure, Mr. Palmer held various positions and titles. In 1994, Mr. Palmer became chief of the Business Services Office of the VA's National Acquisition Center (NAC). As chief, Mr. Palmer was responsible for marketing VA contracts to other government agencies. Mr. Palmer also had the authority to bind the VA to contracts for goods and services. Shortly before Mr. Palmer became chief, a VA employee brought sexual harassment charges against him. Upset by the VA's subsequent investigations, Mr. Palmer filed a series of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints against the VA, claiming that the VA was using the sexual harassment investigations to force him into an early retirement.

  In March 1996, Mr. Palmer and the VA agreed to mediate his EEO complaints. With the assistance of counsel, the parties reached a settlement agreement whereby Mr. Palmer agreed to retire by June 1, 1996 or no later than November 1, 1996 if Mr. Palmer secured temporary assignment outside the NAC (the Settlement Agreement). The Settlement Agreement also provided that, upon reasonable documentary proof of damages and expenses, the VA would pay Mr. Palmer a lump sum payment of $75,000 by January 31, 1997. After executing the Settlement Agreement, the VA placed Mr. Palmer on paid leave until June 1, 1996. Mr. Palmer then decided to procure temporary assignments outside the NAC, rather than elect the June 1 retirement date.

  Soon after signing the Settlement Agreement, Mr. Palmer began demanding that the VA pay him the agreed upon $75,000. Various issues arose over the adequacy of Mr. Palmer's medical documentation. The VA claims that, despite the parties' disagreements, it hoped to meet the January 31, 1997 deadline. But Mr. Palmer was not satisfied. So, on November 4, 1996, he returned to the VA and announced that he wished to continue working.

  To accommodate Mr. Palmer's unexpected return, the VA created a temporary position — that of liaison between the NAC and the VA's Washington D.C. business services office.*fn1 Although the job paid the same salary as his previous post, Mr. Palmer was not pleased with his new position. He complains that the VA put him in a separate building, apart from his former NAC colleagues. Mr. Palmer also complains that, in contrast to his former post, he did not have a dedicated parking space, his name was not listed in the agency phone directory, and he did not have a properly functioning computer or adequate office supplies. Mr. Palmer further claims that his supervisor did not invite him to regular staff meetings, and that VA employees generally ignored him. Mr. Palmer says that these circumstances caused him to feel ostracized, degraded, and humiliated.

  Meanwhile, the parties continued negotiating payment of the settlement monies. After considerable discussion, the parties executed an addendum to the Settlement Agreement wherein the VA agreed to make payment on a date certain and Mr. Palmer agreed to retire. Despite this resolution, Mr. Palmer filed another EEC complaint, alleging that the VA's decision to place him in the temporary position was retaliatory. Without deciding the matter, the EEOC remanded Mr. Palmer's complaint to the VA for a final agency decision. On April 22, 2002, the VA denied Mr. Palmer's retaliation claim, finding that Mr. Palmer did not suffer an adverse employment action. Mr. Palmer subsequently filed charges with the EEOC, which issued a right to sue. Mr. Palmer then initiated the instant lawsuit, and subsequently consented to proceed before this Court.

  Mr. Palmer's complaint alleges that the VA retaliated against him after he engaged in statutorily protected activity. Following written discovery, the VA now moves for summary judgment. The VA argues that Mr. Palmer has not produced evidence to sustain his retaliation claim and that summary judgment is, therefore, appropriate.

  STANDARD OF REVIEW

  The court will grant summary judgment only if the pleadings and supporting documents show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2003). A genuine issue of material fact exists if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court views the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draws all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor. Shank v. William R. Hauge, Inc., 192 F.3d 675, 681 (7th Cir. 1999).

  The moving party in a motion for summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the moving party's burden is met, then the nonmoving party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial in order to survive summary judgment. Schacht v. Wisconsin Dep't of Corrs., 175 F.3d 497, 504 (7th Cir. 1999). In a summary judgment proceeding, the Court will disregard all facts not properly supported by the record. Brasic v. Heinemann's Inc., 121 F.3d 281, 284 (7th Cir. 1997).

  DISCUSSION

  Unlawful retaliation occurs when an employer takes an adverse employment action against an employee for opposing impermissible discrimination. Rogers v. City of Chicago, 320 F.3d 748, 753 (2003); 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3. To overcome summary judgment, the plaintiff may establish a prima facie case of retaliation using either the direct method or the direct method of proving discrimination. Stone v. City of Indianapolis Public Utilities Division, 281 F.3d 640, 644 (7th Cir. 2002). Under the direct method, the plaintiff must present direct evidence of (1) a statutorily protected activity; (2) an adverse employment action taken by the employer; and (3) a causal connection between the two. Id. (emphasis added). Under the indirect method, the plaintiff must show that (1) he engaged in a statutorily protected activity; (2) he performed his job according to his employer's legitimate expectations; (3) despite his satisfactory job performance, he suffered an adverse action from the employer; and (4) he was treated less favorably than similarly situated employees who did not engage in statutorily protected activity. Id. ...


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