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Jones v. Potter

March 29, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, Chief District Judge


This matter comes before the court on Defendant's, John E. Potter, the Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service ("USPS"), Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is granted.


The relevant facts are taken from the parties' filings under Local Rule 56.1 ("L.R.56.1"). As is the practice in this district, we will only consider those facts or additional facts presented in conformity with L.R. 56.1. The alleged facts not properly before us or unsupported by the record have been disregarded. See Brasic v. Heinemann's Inc., 121 F.3d 281, 284 (7th Cir. 1997) (refusing to consider the plaintiff's additional facts where not supported by specific references to the record).

Plaintiff, Zataunia Jones ("Jones"), began her employment with USPS as a mail handler in the Chicago Bulk Mail Center in August 1994, and, at all relevant times, was assigned to Pay Location 234. Jones had several Postal Supervisors including Toni Dunn-Seaton ("Dunn-Seaton"), Joseph Michael Harris ("Harris"), Quentin Turnbow ("Turnbow"), and William Walker ("Walker"). During her employment, Jones served as an alternate union steward for the Mail Handlers Union, Local 106. As such, Jones was subject to the USPS policy which requires employees absent for more than 21 consecutive days to submit medical documentation to support such an absence and to get medical clearance before returning to work.

The events giving rise to Jones' claims began in 2001, when, over a 2-3 month period, Harris made sexual advances; specifically, requesting hugs and making offensive comments to Jones. On occasion, Jones complied with Harris's request for hugs. Harris responded by feeling her back, smelling her neck and putting his tongue in her ear. Further, Harris's sexual comments also escalated to the point where he asked Jones to engage in oral sex. Jones informed Harris that his advancements were unwarranted and that she would file a grievance if they did not stop. On July 6, 2001, Jones filed an informal EEO discrimination complaint.

Distraught by Harris's actions, Jones submitted a 160-hour Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") request because she was "crying hysterically" and was not physically, emotionally, or mentally able to work. However, Jones was not aware of whether she had worked enough hours to qualify for such leave. Turnbow presented Harris with Jones' request who instructed him to "let her ass go." When Jones left work that day, she was "emotionally and psychologically traumatized by the events." Jones met with her doctor at the "first available appointment" and was diagnosed with anxiety neurosis. Jones' doctor prescribed that she work less and "not in the same place." When Jones had not returned to work, Turnbow mailed her a Notice of Unauthorized Absence on July 18, 2001, and when Jones had yet to return by July 25, 2001, Turnbow mailed her a Notice of Removal. The Notice of Removal was rescinded on August 7, 2001. Jones did not return to work until September 25, 2001. The absence was of such a duration that Jones was required to present medical evidence justifying her absence prior to returning to work. Jones never obtained or supplied such evidence and her doctor never actually cleared her to return to work.

Upon Jones' return to work, Harris confronted her and asked whether she had the medical clearance to do so. Harris told Jones to punch out, that he would place her on emergency placement, and to go the Manager of Distribution Operations' ("MDO") office. Harris threatened to call the postal police on Jones to escort her from the building. Jones was "crying uncontrollably," was "emotional and upset" and experienced a panic attack and tightness in her chest. After the confrontation, Jones was allowed to return to work. On November 8, 2001, Jones contacted the EEOC to file an informal complaint.

Jones alleges that she requested sick leave on or about November 23, 2001, and recalls submitting the request to her supervisor, Debra Fortier. However, when Jones returned from her absence, she was listed as "Absent Without Leave" instead of "Leave Without Pay." In any event, Jones admits that she does not recall being reprimanded as a result and that the situation was eventually rectified.

Jones claims that problems with one of her supervisors, Dunn-Seaton, began when Dunn-Seaton failed to follow the proper procedures in conducting a pre-disciplinary interview with Jones and, consequently, was unable to discipline her. On April 18, 2002, Dunn-Seaton assigned Jones to "work the APC's," which was a job Jones submits required gloves. Jones could not find any gloves in her unit. While waiting for gloves to be provided, Jones was handed a newspaper by a co-worker and looked at the front page. Dunn-Seaton saw Jones looking at the newspaper, asked that Jones stop reading it and instructed Jones "to get on her job." Jones then told Dunn-Seaton "to get on [her] job and have some gloves in the unit so that [Jones] could do [her] job," and that she did "not know who [Dunn-Seaton was] talking to like that." Jones then began to work the APC's without gloves.

While working the APC's, Jones nearly collided with a forklift operated by another co-worker. Jones, shaken up and frightened by the incident, contacted Dunn-Seaton to report an unsafe work condition, and requested a Form 1767 to do so. Dunn-Seaton declined to file the requested report after Harris informed her that a formal report was unnecessary and that Dunn-Seaton was only required to fix the unsafe condition. Distraught, Jones demanded to see a union steward and the lead MDO on duty. Dunn-Seaton instructed Jones to return to work, but Jones refused. Dunn-Seaton attempted to contact MDO Harris regarding the matter. Jones indicated that she did not want to talk to MDO Harris and left her unit to go to the union room to end her workday.

Prior to leaving work, Walker, the lead MDO on duty, entered the union room and instructed Jones to return to work. Jones refused and attempted to explain the safety issue. Walker requested that the Postal Police be called to the union room. Eventually, Jones' union steward, June Harris, talked Jones into staying and walked her back to her unit. Jones did not get "put out of the building that day," but felt threatened. Jones had a pre-disciplinary meeting regarding the matter that same day and was issued a Letter of Warning, in front of her co-workers, for her failure to follow instructions and insubordination. Pursuant to USPS policy, a supervisor is "supposed to issue discipline . . . in a confined area [when] there are no other employees around at the time."

On April 24, 2002, Jones requested that Dunn-Seaton allow her to fill out an EEO affidavit during the work day. Dunn-Seaton denied the request because she was unsure whether EEO documents were to be filled out during the work day or, instead, during an employee's personal time. However, Dunn-Seaton informed Jones that she would contact the EEO to find out. On April 28, 2002, Jones filed an informal EEO discrimination complaint.

On June 4, 2002, Dunn-Seaton gave Jones several work assignments at once. Jones notified Dunn-Seaton that she could only do one job at a time. Dunn-Seaton told Jones that she was "going to get [her] ass out of here." Jones experienced a panic attack, tightness in her chest and shoulder, and a severe headache. Jones felt she could not work under those conditions and subsequently filled out a Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") request for four weeks time off from work. However, Jones was unaware that she was ineligible for FMLA leave because she had not worked the required minimum hours. Jones left work that day and did not return.

In response to Jones' absence, Dunn-Seaton scheduled pre-disciplinary hearings with Jones for June 14, 2002, and June 26, 2002, but Jones did not attend either hearing. Consequently, Dunn-Seaton issued a Notice of Removal on June 28, 2002, which stated that it "has been determined that you are not meeting the requirements of your position as to attendance." The Notice of Removal cited fourteen separate USPS rules, policies, and procedures Jones violated by not reporting to work and properly documenting her absence. Dunn-Seaton issued a second Notice of Removal on August 2, 2002, after ...

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