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Anderson v. United States Postal Service

August 26, 2010

DIANNA ANDERSON, PLAINTIFF
v.
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 the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (#12). As stated herein, the Motion is GRANTED.

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). 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).

The parties must identify the evidence (i.e. those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, affidavits, and documents) that will facilitate the court's assessment. Waldridge, 24 F.3d at 922. Thus, as Fed.R.Civ.Proc. 56(e) makes clear, a party opposing summary judgment may not rely on the allegations of her pleadings. Rather:

[T]he adverse party's response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. If the adverse party does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against the adverse party. See, Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). See also, Local Rule CDIL 7.1D. Neither the moving party nor the responding party may simply rest on allegations; those allegations must be supported by significant probative evidence tending. First Nat'l Bank of Arizona v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 290 (1968). See also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)(when the moving party has met its burden, non-moving party must do more than show some "metaphysical doubt " as to material facts). A scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position is not sufficient to oppose successfully a summary judgment motion; "there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

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.

STATEMENT OF UNDISPUTED FACTS

The following recitation of facts is taken from the parties' statements of undisputed facts, the response and reply thereto, and the evidence submitted in support thereof.

Postmaster Craig Anderson hired Plaintiff Dianna Anderson as a substitute rural carrier in the Geneseo, Illinois Post Office in 1989. To avoid confusion from their identical last names, Postmaster Anderson will be referred to herein as "Postmaster" and Plaintiff Anderson will be referred to as "Anderson."

In 1995, Anderson became a full time rural carrier. Rural carriers use their own cars to deliver the mail. In 2000, Anderson was involved in a work-related car accident, causing a broken knee, a punctured retina, head and neck injuries, and internal injuries. As a result of the accident, she claims that she has neurological deficits in her brain functions and in her feet and legs and has short term memory loss. Her balance is impaired. She also suffers from sleep apnea and gastroparesis. Unrelated to the accident, Anderson is also diabetic and asthmatic.

In 2005, the Postal Service changed its procedure for processing applications for FMLA leave. On September 9, 2005, the Postmaster held a meeting with the Geneseo Post Office employees, providing them with information about this change. Each employee was given a form from the Postal Service advising employees about the new procedure for obtaining FMLA leave. Each employee at the meeting, including Anderson, placed their initials next to their name indicating that they had received the form regarding this change in FMLA procedures. This form advised employees that if they requested a new FMLA absence, a message would be sent to Resource Management System in Topeka, Kansas. Someone in Topeka would mail the employee "an FMLA information packet" which would include a cover letter, Publication 71, and WH 380 Form*fn1." This packet would be mailed to the employee's home address.

By October of 2005, Postal Service Publication 71 was displayed in the employee break room at the Geneseo Post Office, where it has remained posted since*fn2. Publication 71 is titled "Notice for Employees Requesting Leave for Conditions Covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act." It contains a thorough explanation of employee rights and obligations under FMLA. A copy of Publication 71 is attached to Defendant's Reply Brief as an exhibit to the affidavit of the Postmaster.

Just a few days after that September 9, 2005, meeting, the Postal Service FMLA Coordinator sent Anderson a letter stating that she had recently requested leave for a condition that may qualify for protection under the FMLA. This letter included several forms, including Form 71. The letter advised that she needed to provide medical certification of her medical condition within 15 days. She failed to do so. Another letter was sent on October 5, 2005, asking Anderson to acknowledge that she had failed to submit medical documentation and that her absence on September 20 was not protected by FMLA. Anderson signed this document on October 7, 2005.

On Sunday, August 19, 2007, Anderson was not scheduled to work. She had become ill with vomiting the day before and was still ill on Sunday. She called the Postmaster at his home to let him know that she was ill and would not be coming into work on Monday and that he needed to find a substitute. The Postmaster told her he was off work on Monday but that he would let the supervisor in charge know. The Postmaster called that supervisor, Kandy Hilburn.

On Monday, August 20, Anderson called the office of her doctor, Dr. Gowda. She was told he was in surgery and would be unavailable all day on Monday but could see her on Tuesday August 21. Anderson called into work and told Kandy that she would not be in on Monday and would follow up on Tuesday. She believes that she told someone that she had an appointment with her doctor on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Anderson was still vomiting; she went to see Dr. Gowda. He provided no testing or treatment that day because Plaintiff was already scheduled for an endoscopy in the near future. He told her not to return to work until Thursday, August 23. Anderson notified the Post Office that she would return on Thursday. According to the Postmaster, Anderson called in once or twice and extended her time off for illness through Wednesday.

On Thursday, she returned to work with a note from Dr. Gowda's office. This note identified Dianna Anderson as the patient, and stated, "My patient has been under my care from Aug.20 to Aug 22 and is able to return to school/work on August 23. It is signed and dated August 21. Anderson claims she put this note on a clipboard that hung at her work station; Kandy testified that Anderson handed her the note. Anderson then left for her route.

On August 20, Kandy had prepared a leave request for Anderson on Postal Service Form 3971; she placed this form on Anderson's clipboard at her work station for Anderson to sign when she returned. Anderson filled out the form on her return, indicating her intent to use "X days"*fn3 to cover 3 days of absence. She then left for her route.

When she returned from her route, Anderson found a note on her clipboard from Kandy reading, "Dianna, Craig said cannot use X days as they are assigned by management. He will be here this afternoon. Thanks, Kandy". She nonetheless completed forms for sick leave to cover the absences; these forms indicate that the absences are "approved, not FMLA" and that the absences were for non-work-related sick leave. She had insufficient sick leave to cover all three days, however, so she took sick leave for the first two days and completed another leave request for annual leave covering the third day. The parties agree that there was no discussion of FMLA leave at this time.

On the morning of the 23rd, before the Postmaster arrived, Kandy noticed that Anderson's note from Dr. Gowda's office appeared to have been altered. It looked to Kandy as though the "August 21" on the note had originally read "August 20" and that the "1" had been closed to form a zero. When the Postmaster arrived, Kandy showed him the note. They discussed it and also discussed Plaintiff's request to use "X days" to cover her absences for the 3 days.

Following his discussion about the note with Kandy, the Postmaster called the Post Office Labor Relations Manager, Steve Thalken, for advice on the procedure to follow when it appears that an employee has presented altered documentation for a medical absence. Thalken contacted the Office of Inspector General ("OIG") to request an investigation into whether Anderson had submitted an altered medical record. OIG assigned Special Agent Paul Reiser as lead investigator.

On October 2, 2007, a union steward had been at the Post Office to advise that Anderson had been successful in a grievance she had previously filed.*fn4

On October 3, 2007, Reiser contacted Dr. Gowda's nurse, Lisa Slatopcoff, who informed him that Anderson was under the doctor's care on August 21 and 22, 2007. She also provided Reiser a copy of the original note from the doctor's file, which indicated that ...


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