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Holmes v. Potter

December 31, 2008

ROCHESTER HOLMES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JOHNE. POTTER, POSTMASTER GENERAL, UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. No. 05 C 447-Andrew P. Rodovich, Magistrate Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Williams, Circuit Judge

ARGUED JANUARY 18, 2008

Before BAUER, WILLIAMS, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

Rochester Holmes maintains that his former employer, the United States Postal Service, breached a settlement agreement signed after the mediation of a complaint he brought under the Rehabilitation Act. In particular, he contends that the USPS breached the agreement by requiring him to repay a voluntary withdrawal he had taken from his retirement account, by improperly calculating his retirement amount using his time in the military, and by adjusting his annual leave payment based on an existing negative leave balance. Because the settlement agreement is unambiguous, inte-grated, and contains no provisions detailing how benefits were to be calculated, the USPS did not breach the agreement. Therefore, we affirm the grant of summary judgment in the USPS's favor.

I. BACKGROUND

Rochester Holmes began working for the United States Postal Service in 1970. In 1992, he filed a complaint in federal court in Minnesota alleging that the USPS violated Title VII during his employment there. Around that time, he had a break in service from his employment with the USPS and voluntarily withdrew about $60,000 from his retirement account. The case was settled in October 1994.

Shortly thereafter, Holmes began working at the Gary, Indiana postal facility. On June 25, 2003, he filed a discrimi-nation complaint with the EEOC alleging that he had a disability (Chronic Adjustment Order with Depressed Mood and Mixed Anxiety and a Phase Life problem) that the USPS failed to accommodate in violation of the Rehabilitation Act. An EEOC administrative law judge referred the case to mediation.

The mediation took place on May 26, 2004. Holmes was present at the mediation along with his attorney. A USPS management employee and a USPS attorney also attended, though the parties were in separate rooms during the mediation and communicated only through a mediator. The mediation proved successful, and the parties executed and signed a written settlement agreement that day. The agreement provided that retroactive to January 1, 2003 and continuing through October 6, 2004, Holmes would be placed on twenty hours per week administrative leave status and twenty hours per week leave without pay status. It also specified the salary he would receive during that period and provided that he was to retire or be deemed to have resigned effective October 6, 2004. The agreement also contains a clause that states: "[T]his settlement agreement contains all of the terms and conditions agreed to by the parties in settlement of this matter."

After the mediation, the federal government's Office of Personnel Management ("OPM") calculated that Holmes was owed $824.05 for unused annual leave. Also, a little over seven months after the mediation, the OPM wrote Holmes that because he had previously withdrawn retirement funds in the amount of $59,984, he could pay back that amount and receive retirement payments of $3233 per month, or not repay the amount and receive retirement benefits of $1096 per month.

Maintaining that USPS breached the terms of the settlement agreement, Holmes filed for enforcement of the agreement with the EEOC. The EEOC ruled that USPS had not violated the agreement, and Holmes filed suit in federal district court. He now appeals from the entry of summary judgment against him.

II. ANALYSIS

Under the now-familiar standard, summary judgment is proper only if "there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, Petts v. Rockledge Furniture LLC, 534 F.3d 715, 720 (7th Cir. 2008), and note that "[t]he interpretation of an established written contract is generally a question of law for the court," In re United Airlines, Inc., 453 F.3d 463, 468 (7th Cir. 2006).

A. Threshold Issues

We begin with a quick word about our jurisdiction. A federal district court may not enforce a settlement agreement unless an independent basis of federal jurisdiction exists. Lucille v. City of Chicago, 31 F.3d 546, 548 (7th Cir. 1994). We have ruled before that a private plaintiff may bring an action under Title VII to enforce a pre-determination settlement agreement. Ruedlinger v. Jarrett, 106 F.3d 212, 215 (7th Cir. 1997). Claims under the Rehabilitation Act are enforceable through ...


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