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WINSTON v. POTTER

December 1, 2004.

SHANNON WINSTON, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN POTTER, Postmaster, United States Postal Service, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MICHAEL MASON, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Shannon Winston ("Winston") filed this action pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 701 et seq., alleging disability discrimination arising out of his termination from the United States Postal Service ("the Postal Service"). The Postal Service filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Postal Service's motion for summary judgment is denied.

Background

  History of Winston's Knee Condition

  Winston injured his right knee in 1992 while on active duty with the United States Navy. In August 1994, he had surgery on his right knee and was subsequently placed on limited duty status. As a result of continued problems with his right knee, in November 1996, the Naval Medical Board found that Winston was not fit for full duty and would not be able to perform his duties shipboard without significant complaints of pain. The Medical Board, therefore, recommended that Winston be discharged from the Navy. Winston was discharged from the Navy because of disability in August 1997. He received disability severance pay of approximately $19,525.

  Wintson's Employment with The Postal Service

  In March 1998, Winston applied for a job as a mail carrier with the Postal Service's facility in Joliet. Winston filled out an application for employment, PS Form 2591. On that form, Winston denied receiving compensation based on military service. Winston also submitted a DD Form 214 to the Postal Service along with his application prior to his hire. Winston's DD Form 214 reflects that he was discharged from the Navy because of a disability and that he received a disability severance payment.

  On March 27, 1998, a physician employed by the Postal Service examined Winston as a precondition for his employment. As part of his examination, Winston filled out PS Form 2485, "Medical Examination & Assessment." On the PS Form 2485, Winston stated: (1) that he had never needed a special or restricted job assignment due to illness, injury or physical impairment; (2) that he had an operation, but he did not offer any details; (3) that he had never received compensation or a cash settlement from an employer, including the government, for injury or disease; (4) that his right knee had been x-rayed in 1994 but he omitted any reason(s) for the x-ray; (5) that he had never been discharged from military service because of any physical or mental reasons; and (6) that he regularly exercised. Winston failed to answer a question on PS Form 2485 asking whether he had ever had arthritis. Winston also failed to answer a question asking whether he had ever filed a disability claim or received compensation from the U.S. government.

  The Postal Service's examining physician found that Winston presented no significant medical findings and that he was not limited or restricted in performing the duties expected by the Postal Service. The examining physician also found that Winston presented no medical risk/restriction and was medically qualified for a job as a mail carrier, without accommodation.

  Winston began working in Joliet as a mail carrier in May 1998. During his employment with the Postal Service, Winston was disciplined on several occasions for being late, taking unscheduled sick leave and for being AWOL on two occasions. Winston was informed that failure to correct his irregular behavior could result in termination. On August 20, 1999, Winston requested light duty until August 25, 1999.*fn1 On August 25, 1999, a VA physician diagnosed Winston with patella tendinitis of the left knee and indicated that Winston's walking requirements at work should be reduced to three hours per day. The parties dispute whether the Postal Service actually decreased Winston's walking requirements for three weeks.

  Winston's November 1999 Right Knee Injury

  On November 10, 1999, Winston reported to his superiors that he injured his right knee the previous day at work. An examining physician at Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet diagnosed Winston as having a right knee sprain. On November 12, 1999, Winston's personal physician examined his right knee and recommended that he apply for limited duty at work, with restrictions of limited walking and no squatting or climbing. Winston's physician filled out Department of Labor Form CA-17 in order for Winston to request a limited duty assignment. On November 15, 1999, Winston filed a worker's compensation claim. Postmaster Lolita Rice ("Ms. Rice") sent a letter to the injury compensation manager that same day requesting a denial of Winston's claim. Ms. Rice testified that she wrote this "controversion letter" because after reviewing Winston's file, she determined that he had a pre-existing injury. Despite Ms. Rice's letter, Winston's worker's compensation claim was accepted. Ms. Rice then asked the Postal Inspection Service to initiate a worker's compensation fraud investigation into Winston's alleged injury. The Postal Inspection Service subsequently began that investigation.

  Also on November 15, 1999, Winston requested counseling from an EEOC counselor due to the Postal Service's failure to provide appropriate claim forms and the Postal Service's failure to treat his injury as an on-the-job injury. Winston never filed a formal complaint with the EEOC.

  Winston accepted a 30-day limited duty job offer designed to accommodate his right knee injury on November 16, 1999. Winston's tasks were limited to answering phones, updating forms, marking Loop mail and other desk work. On December 6, 1999, Winston's personal physician recommended that he be kept in a "sit-down" job with no squatting, or climbing and only limited walking. On December 27, 1999, Winston accepted another 30-day limited duty assignment. In ...


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