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Bassett v. Potter

March 10, 2010

CHERYL L. BASSETT, PLAINTIFF
v.
JOHN E. POTTER, POSTMASTER GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John A. Gorman United States Magistrate Judge

OPINION

The parties have consented to have this case heard to judgment by a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and the District Judge has referred the case to me. Now before the court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (#11). The motion is fully briefed and I have carefully considered the submissions and arguments of the parties. As explained herein, the motion is granted.

JURISDICTION AND VENUE

This case was brought pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act (the "Act"), 29 U.S.C. §621 et seq.*fn1 This Court therefore has federal question jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. §1331.

The events in this lawsuit took place at Plaintiff's place of employment, which was the Post Office in Pekin, Tazewell County, Illinois. Venue is therefore proper in this District, 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e)(2), and in this Division. CDIL-LR 40.1

SUMMARY JUDGMENT GENERALLY

The purpose of summary judgment is to "pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment should be entered if and only if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Jay v. Intermet Wagner Inc., 233 F.3d 1014, 1016 (7th Cir.2000); Cox v. Acme Health Serv., 55 F.3d 1304, 1308 (7th Cir. 1995). In ruling on a summary judgment motion, the court may not weigh the evidence or resolve issues of fact; disputed facts must be left for resolution at trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986). The court's role in deciding the motion is not to sift through the evidence, pondering the nuances and inconsistencies, and decide whom to believe. Waldridge v. American Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 922 (7th Cir.1994). Summary judgment is not a substitute for a jury's determination about credibility. Paz v. Wauconda Healthcare and Rehabilitations Centre, 464 F.3d 659, 664 (7th Cir. 2006). The court has one task and one task only: to decide, based on the evidence of record, whether there is any material dispute of fact that requires a trial.

The court is to examine all admissible facts, viewing the entirety of the record and accepting all facts and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant, Erdman v. City of Ft. Atkinson, 84 F.3d 960, 961 (7th Cir. 1996); Vukadinovich v. Bd. of Sch. Trustees, 978 F.2d 403, 408 (7th Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 844 (1993); Lohorn v. Michal, 913 F.2d 327, 331 (7th Cir. 1990); DeValk Lincoln-Mercury, Inc. V. Ford Motor Co., 811 F.2d 326, 329 (7th Cir. 1987); Bartman v. Allis Chalmers Corp., 799 F.2d 311, 312 (7th Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 1092 (1987), and construing any doubts against the moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144 (1970); Trotter v. Anderson, 417 F.2d 1191 (7th Cir. 1969); Haefling v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 169 F.3d 494, 497 (7th Cir.1999).

The existence of "some alleged factual dispute between the parties," or "some metaphysical doubt," however, does not create a genuine issue of fact. Piscione v. Ernst & Young, L.L.P., 171 F.3d 527, 532 (7th Cir.1999). "Inferences that are supported by only speculation or conjecture will not defeat a summary judgment motion." McDonald v. Village of Winnetka, 371 F.3d 992, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). The proper inquiry is whether a rational trier of fact could reasonably find for the party opposing the motion with respect to the particular issue. See, e.g., Jordan v. Summers, 205 F.3d 337, 342 (7th Cir.2000).

If the undisputed facts indicate that no reasonable jury could find for the party opposing the motion, then summary judgment must be granted. Hedberg v. Indiana Bell Tel. Co., 47 F.3d 928, 931 (7th Cir. 1995), citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If the non-moving party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial, then summary judgment is proper. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Waldridge, 24 F.3d at 920.

Although courts weighing summary judgment motions in employment cases must take special care not to invade the province of the fact finder, employment cases are governed by the same rules that govern any other summary judgment case, and they are equally amenable to summary disposition so long as there is no genuine dispute as to material facts. Giannopoulos v. Brach & Brock Confections, Inc., 109 F.3d 406, 410 (7th Cir. 1997); Gonzalez v. Ingersoll Milling Machine Co., 133 F.3d 1025, 1031 (7th Cir. 1998). While intent and credibility are often critical issues in employment discrimination cases, there is no special version of Rule 56 that applies only to them.

See, e.g., Alexander v. Wisconsin Dep't of Health and Family Serv., 263 F.3d 673, 681 (7th Cir.2001); Wallace v. SMC Pneumatics, Inc., 103 F.3d 1394, 1396 (7th Cir.1997); Haugerud v. Amery School Dist., 259 F.3d 678, 689 (7th Cir.2001).

STATEMENT OF UNDISPUTED FACTS

The following statement of undisputed facts is taken from the parties' statements of fact, the responses and replies thereto, and the evidence submitted in support thereof.

Cheryl Bassett was employed by the United States Postal Service. Beginning in June of 1996, she worked as a data conversion operator at the Remote Encoding Center located at the Peoria Airport. Her duties initially were to type a coded delivery sequence via computer on incoming mail so it could be automatically sorted for delivery to proper destinations. Later, she was a group leader, which involved more supervision and coordination and less data entry. In May of 2005, Bassett received notice that the Remote Encoding Center would be closing and her job would be terminated.

Originally, the plan was to transfer Bassett to a mail processing position in Champaign, Illinois. Because of her seniority, however, she had the opportunity to bid on other jobs. She applied for a position as a mail carrier in her hometown of Pekin, Illinois. As part of her application, she signed Falsification and Postal Crime Affidavit, which included the following:

I am also aware that the Postal Service has the authority to terminate my employment at any time should it determine that I have falsified any information contained in my application for employment or this affidavit in support thereof. (Exh. B to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Doc. #24 p.34).

The Postal Service requires all applicants for the position of mail carrier to submit to a physical examination. As part of that examination, a Medical Examination of Assessment (PS form 2485) is completed. The Postal Service fills out the first two sections of which set forth the functional requirements and environmental factors involved in the position. Those sections reveal that the essential functions of a mail carrier include a number of physical activities, such as being able to lift 70 pounds, reach above the shoulders, use the fingers, stand or walk for 8-10 hours, bend and climb, operate a motor vehicle, all in excessive heat, cold, humidity and dampness.

The remainder of the Assessment Form is filled out by the applicant. The introductory paragraph to these sections reads, in pertinent part, as follows:

This section contains questions regarding your medical history and health habits. This information will be used to make a medical assessment of whether you can safely and efficiently perform the duties of the position that you now hold or for which you have applied ... It is essential that you answer all questions truthfully and completely. A history of any health problems will not necessarily disqualify you from employment. False or incomplete response could result in an incomplete examination, or termination if hired.

On September 25, 2005, Bassett was examined by a physician at Proctor First Care in Peoria, Illinois. The physician had access to the Assessment Form completed by Bassett and the Postal Service. After the doctor completed an initial exam and reviewed the history form, he determined that Bassett was medically qualified to perform the essential functions of a letter carrier without need for accommodation or further medical review.

Bassett was approved for the mail carrier position, and on October 1, 2005, she began work as a part time flexible carrier at the Pekin Post Office. Her supervisors were Sue Buckley*fn2 and Angela Heron. Their supervisor was the Acting Postmaster of the Pekin post office, John Crain. Bassett was given some in-house training. At the end of the second week or beginning of the third week in October, she began to carry mail for her routes.

On either her first or second day, as she headed out to deliver mail, Crain said to her," Are you sure you are ready to do this?" Bassett replied in the affirmative. According to Buckley, Crain was critical of the length of time Bassett took to learn and to perform her duties, calling her a poor performer. Bassett believed that Crain's tone when he spoke to her was condescending. She also felt that Crain scrutinized her more than he did younger employees. She therefore maintained that she worked through pain to "show him I could do the job."

During her second week of delivering mail, Bassett began experiencing pain in her legs. Her supervisors noticed that she was walking slowly and limping. On October 29, Buckley told Bassett that she needed to be seen by a doctor before she would be allowed to continue to deliver mail. Bassett saw her physician on October 31. He referred her to an orthopedic surgeon. On Nov. 1, the orthopedic surgeon diagnosed stress fractures in both ankles. Her ankles were cast and she was told that her ankles should not be weight bearing. She was confined to a wheelchair until the casts were removed on January 5, 2006.

According to Buckley, when an employee was injured, she was required to follow Post Office policy and practice as to workplace injuries. Buckley characterizes this "policy and practice" as a search "for ways to discipline and terminate the employment of injured employees to avoid another injury and limited duty from any injury." She was given an Accident Report kit, which included a Safety Accident Report. She claims that she was told by her supervisor that every workplace injury is preventable and that such injuries cannot simply be attributed to "an accident." Buckley states that she was required in all but rarest cases to find a safety violation. (Buckley Affidavit Doc. #33-2, ¶ 6- 7)*fn3 . Buckley also states that Bassett was the only employee of whom she was aware who had filed for workers' compensation benefits and then subjected to a medical fraud review.

In December, before the casts were removed, it appeared that there was a possibility that Bassett could transfer into a clerk position. That possibility did not materialize, because clerks were in a different union than Bassett was.

In February 2006, Bassett applied for workers compensation based on these injuries. The Postal Service requested that Autrill Cook, a Human Resource Specialist within the Injury Compensation Unit of the Postal Service, investigate Bassett's employment and medical history. Clark contacted Dr. Elaine Furgeson, who is the Senior Medical Director for the Great Lakes area of the Postal Service.

Dr. Furgeson obtained copies of Bassett's medical records from her physicians and compared those records to the Medical Examination and Assessment Form that Bassett had completed in September of 2005, when she applied for the mail carrier position. That examination revealed that Bassett had been less than forthcoming with respect to the answers she provided to some of the 98 questions on the Assessment Form. Discrepancies identified by Dr. Furgeson, along with Basset's subsequent interpretation of those discrepancies, included:

1. The Form asked: "Have you ever required special or restricted job assignments due to illness, injury or physical impairments? If yes, list accommodations provided." Bassett placed an "x" in the "no" column.

In fact, Bassett had worked with restrictions at the Postal Encoding center; her typing was limited to 5 hours per day in 2 hour segments with a minimum of 1 hour between segments, beginning January 13, 2004 and continuing "indefinitely." Her physician's notes indicate that, on March 31, 2004, Bassett ...


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