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Hill v. Potter

June 16, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable David H. Coar


Plaintiff Carla Hill brings an action against Defendant John E. Potter ("Defendant"), Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service ("USPS"), alleging disability discrimination*fn1 in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., and retaliation in violation of the Rehabilitation Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"). For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.


The material facts below are generally undisputed and taken from Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("DSOF") and Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Facts ("PSOF"); the Court will note where there are disputes about material facts.

Plaintiff Carla Hill ("Plaintiff") has worked at the Hazel Crest Post Office as a letter carrier since 1998. She was promoted to a full-time carrier position in 1999. DSOF ¶ 2. Steve Schneider was apparently*fn2 Postmaster of the Hazel Crest facility when Plaintiff began working there. At some point thereafter, Karen Myuskens became Postmaster and remained in that position until July 2003. P.'s Mem. 1. Patrick Kavanaugh became Postmaster of the facility in July 2003, and he and supervisor James Fuscaldo supervised Plaintiff from then until the spring of 2006. Id. Syed Ahmed then briefly took over as Postmaster, followed by Beverly Greene in May 2006. DSOF ¶ 25.

During the course of Plaintiff's employment at the Hazel Crest facility, she sustained several on-the-job injuries. Plaintiff injured her back, shoulder, and ankle by falling while delivering or carrying mail or while in the facility parking lot. PSOF Ex. 2, Declaration of Carla Hill. Plaintiff's injury claims are supported by Duty Status Reports from the Department of Labor's Office of Worker's Compensation Program ("OWCP"). PSOF Ex. 23. After injuring her back in November of 2002, Plaintiff was subsequently placed on "limited duty." PSOF ¶ 5. Hill's physician recommended that she not be subject to repetitive twisting, turning, lifting or sitting for prolonged periods of time and restricted her to lifting no more than 15 pounds. Id. at ¶ 6. "Limited duty" is work provided to an employee who suffered an injury that is accepted by the OWCP as work-related. The Postal Service is required to provide work for an employee who has suffered a work-related injury. Id. at¶ 7.

In September of 2003, Plaintiff told her supervisors that she had suffered another injury. Hill Dep. 34:18-35:6. Kavanaugh directed her to fill out a form for a recurrence of injury (rather than a new injury). Id. Postal injury compensation specialist Dale Schultz then instructed Plaintiff to take a Fitness for Duty Examination. DSOF ¶ 12. Kavanaugh controverted Plaintiff's injury claim, sending correspondence to Schultz advising him to "act swiftly and appropriately in regards to Carla Hill" because "[t]his... exceeds any proximity of being a legit injury." PSOF Ex. 26, 27. He doubted the extent of Plaintiff's injuries, describing them as "[minor] contusions... only needing what [Plaintiff] sought, an antiseptic to prohibit any secondary infection." PSOF Ex. 27. He noted that Plaintiff had "demonstrated none of the restrictions previous to being informed this was an accepted claim under Department of Labor Standards." He also noted that Plaintiff was "at the time of the injury only working two hours daily and collecting unemployment to subsidize her income." Id. The OWCP denied Plaintiff's injury claim. DSOF ¶ 13.

As a result, Plaintiff was shifted from limited duty to light duty status. In contrast to limited duty status, "light duty" work is provided to an employee who suffers a non-work-related injury. There is no guarantee of work hours for an employee who is on light duty. Id. at ¶ 9. Management has discretion to determine the number of hours to give employees on "light duty," and is required to "show the greatest consideration for [employees] requiring light duty or other assignments, giving each request careful attention, and reassign such employees to the extent possible in the employee's office." PSOF Ex. 28, USPS Employee Labor and Relations Manual Section 355. Employees on "light duty" are only expected to perform assignments within the scope of their medical restrictions. From December 2003 through July 2004, Plaintiff was frequently sent home with less than eight hours of work per day, resulting in a total of 618 hours of Leave Without Pay ("LWOP") totaling $12,000 in unpaid wages, while 821 hours of overtime were awarded to other employees at the Hazel Crest facility. PSOF ¶ 21. Additionally, Plaintiff also claims that she was denied a promotion to a Part-Time Flexible Sales, Services, and Distribution Associate ("window clerk") position on three occasions; the facts surrounding these alleged denials of promotion are discussed in greater detail below.

In addition, Plaintiff filed Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaints on or about June 19, 2002, March 27, 2004, May 4, 2005, and June 23, 2005. Each of these complaints named Fuscaldo, among others, as a person who had discriminated against her; the March 27 complaint also named Kavanaugh. Plaintiff had also contacted an EEO specialist on February 15, 2002, but that case was settled before she actually filed a complaint. Plaintiff contacted an EEO specialist on May 23, 2006, but withdrew before actually filing a complaint on that occasion. PSOF ¶ 5.


Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The movant bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets this burden, the non-movant must set forth specific facts (a "scintilla of evidence" is insufficient) demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See Schuster v. Lucent Tech., Inc., 327 F.3d 569, 573 (7th Cir. 2003). This standard of review is applied to employment discrimination cases with "added rigor." Sarsha v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 3 F.3d 1035, 1038 (7th Cir. 1993).


a. Discrimination Under the Rehabilitation Act

In Count I of the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant discriminated against her based on her disability by thrice failing to promote her to a window clerk position and denying her work hours (i.e. sending her home after ...

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