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Garica v. Potter

April 1, 2010

JOHN R. GARCIA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN E. POTTER, POSTMASTER GENERAL, UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marvin E. Aspen, District Judge

Hon. Marvin E. Aspen

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff John Garcia sued his former employer Defendant United States Postal Service (USPS) for retaliation and national origin, age, and sex discrimination.*fn1 USPS answered, the parties completed discovery, and Garcia voluntarily dismissed his age and sex discrimination claims. Presently before us is USPS's motion for summary judgment on the remaining claims. For the reasons discussed below, we grant the motion.

I. STATEMENT OF FACTS*fn2

Plaintiff John Garcia began working for Defendant USPS in 1987. (Def. Facts ¶ 1.)

Beginning in 1990, he served as a full time distribution window clerk in Hazel Crest, Illinois, and in 2001 he became the head distribution window clerk. (Def. Facts ¶ 1; Garcia Dep. at 11.)*fn3

His job duties included sorting post office box mail, selling stamps, handling certified mail, and working with accountable items, namely stamps and money. (Def. Facts ¶ 1.) At all relevant times, Garcia was the only Mexican-American clerk at the Hazel Crest post office. (See Pl. Facts ¶ 1.) USPS suspended Garcia on July 22, 2004 and terminated him on September 12, 2004. (Def. Facts ¶¶ 16, 18.)

Steve Schneider was the postmaster at Hazel Crest from 1996 to 2001, and he was the acting manager of post officer operations, a regional supervisor position in which he oversaw the Hazel Crest office, from May to November of 2004. (Pl. Ex. 1 at 84--85; see Def. Facts ¶ 2.) Pat Kavanaugh was the postmaster at Hazel Crest from 2003 to until late 2004. (Pl. Ex. 1 at 116--17.) Jim Fuscaldo was Garcia's direct supervisor at all relevant times. (Def. Facts ¶ 2.) James Gudlowski, a Polish-American, and Vanessa Lewis, an African-American, were clerks at Hazel Crest at the time of Garcia's suspension and termination. (See Pl. Ex. 1 at 24; Garcia Dep. at 46--47.)

A. Garcia's Termination

A series of regular audits from around November 2002 to April 2004 revealed a cumulative $800 shortage in Hazel Crest's retail stock, and in April 2004 postmaster Kavanaugh reported the shortage to the Postal Inspection Service. (See Pl. Ex. 1 at 119--20.) The retail stock at Hazel Crest was open to all clerks, and therefore the shortage was not directly attributable to any particular employee or employees. (Pl. Ex. 1 at 160; see Garcia Dep. at 4.) The official form Kavanaugh used to report the shortage required him to list a suspect, and Kavanaugh listed Garcia. (Pl. Ex. 1 at 121.) Kavanaugh testified that he listed Garcia because shortly before Kavanaugh submitted the form Garcia had been bragging about gambling on the NCAA Tournament, wearing new shoes, and showing off wads of cash. (Id. at 121--22.)

The Postal Inspection Service sent Inspector Ramona Parker to investigate the Hazel Crest shortage. (Def. Facts ¶ 6; Pl. Ex. 1 at 154--55) Parker testified that she ignored Kavanaugh's identification of Garcia as a suspect because, from her experience, the "suspect" section of the shortage form is unreliable. (Pl. Ex. 1 at 192--93.) Instead, Parker began her investigation by reviewing sales reports for all window clerks who had conducted sales in the prior month. (Def. Facts ¶ 6.) Parker flagged voided sales, single-stamp sales, and "nosells"-when cashiers open their cash drawers without making a sale-because these types of transactions are indicators of potential misconduct. (Def. Facts ¶ 6; Pl. Ex. 1 at 156--57.) Parker discovered that Garcia had engaged in a significantly higher percentage of the flagged transactions than other clerks. (Def. Facts ¶ 7.)

Parker decided to install a video surveillance camera over Garcia's work station to monitor his transactions. (See id. ¶ 8.) After taping, Parker matched the videotape to receipts of Garcia's transactions and discovered that on May 5, 2004, Garcia engaged in three questionable transactions. (Def. Facts ¶ 10; see Def. Ex. 13 ¶¶ 5--7.) First, according to Parker, Garcia sold a customer a $7.40 book of stamps but rang up the sale in the USPS computer system as a $0.37 single stamp. (Def. Facts ¶ 11.) Garcia protests that the video actually shows him selling the customer a $3.70 half-book, however he does not contest that he rang up the sale as one stamp. (See Pl. Resp. to Def. Facts ¶ 11.) Second, Garcia sold a customer a single stamp but did not ring up the purchase. (Def. Facts ¶ 12.) Third, Garcia sold a customer a $7.40 book of stamps but rang it up as three single stamps. (Id. ¶ 13.) Garcia did not provide receipts to the customers in these transactions. (Id. ¶ 13.)*fn4

Parker and Inspector Michael Young interviewed Garcia about the video on July 22, 2004. (Def. Facts ¶ 14; Pl. Ex. 1 at 55--56.) According to Parker and Young, Garcia admitted "that he 'probably' does not put all sales into the [computer] system and 'probably' does not enter all transactions correctly." (Def. Ex. 13 ¶ 14; Def. Ex. 14 at 2.) Garcia denies making this statement. (Pl. Ex. 1 at 58.) Parker and Young claim that Garcia refused to view the May 5 videotape; Garcia denies doing so. (Def. Ex. 13 ¶ 12; Def. Ex. 14 at 2; Pl. Ex. 1 at 58--59.)

After the interview with Garcia, Parker presented the results of her investigation to Kavanaugh, and Kavanaugh suspended Garcia later that day, July 22, 2004. (Def. Facts ¶ 16; Pl. Ex. 1 at 185--87.) On August 31, 2004, Kavanaugh interviewed Garcia and reviewed with him the May 5 surveillance video. (Def. Facts ¶ 17.) Garcia could not explain the questionable transactions, and repeatedly answered Kavanaugh's questions by stating, "I did not knowingly put in any wrong transactions." (Def. Facts ¶ 17; see Pl. Resp. to Def. Fact ¶ 17.) Kavanaugh proposed Garcia's termination on September 12, 2004, and Schneider, whose approval as regional supervisor was required, concurred. (Def. Facts ¶ 18.) They issued a Removal Notice which stated that Garcia was terminated for "Unacceptable Conduct as Evidenced by Your Failure to Properly Conduct Window Transactions Resulting in Overages to Your Drawer Which Were Never Accounted For." (Def. Facts ¶ 18; Def. Ex. 12.)

On August 19, 2004, after his suspension but before his interview with Kavanaugh, Garcia filed a formal EEO complaint alleging discrimination. (Def. Ex. 8.) After a formal administrative hearing in January 2008, the presiding ALJ decided that Garcia failed to prove discrimination, and the agency issued a final decision implementing the judge's decision. (Def. Ex. 6; see Pl. Ex. 1.) Garcia appealed to the EEOC, which affirmed. (See Def. Ex. 5.) Garcia then filed this case.

B. Alleged Discrimination & Retaliation

Garcia alleges that throughout his tenure at USPS, Hazel Crest management-including Schneider but not Kavanaugh-subjected him to name-calling and ethnic slurs. (Pl. Facts ¶ 2; Pl. Ex. 1 at 40.) Garcia does not identify any specific incidents of such conduct. (Pl. Facts ¶ 2; see Def. Resp. to Pl. Facts. ¶ 2.) In addition, Garcia outlines the following series of events which he claims are evidence of national origin discrimination.

Sometime in 1996, twelve-hundred dollars was found missing from Garcia's cash drawer. (See Pl. Ex. 1 at 20.) After the spare key to his drawer was found loose in the postmaster's desk-a place it should not have been-Garcia was cleared in the investigation. (See Pl. Ex. 1 at 20, 90.) Garcia claims that Schneider was the postmaster at the time. (Pl. Ex. 1 at 20.) Schneider, who transferred to Hazel Crest in ...


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