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Hill v. Potter

August 30, 2010

CARLA HILL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JOHN E. POTTER, POSTMASTER GENERAL, UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 1:07-cv-06835-David H. Coar, Judge.

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

ARGUED JANUARY 20, 2010

Before FLAUM, KANNE, and EVANS, Circuit Judges.

Carla Hill sued John E. Potter, the Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service, for age and disability discrimination and for retaliating against her for engaging in protected activities. The district court granted summary judgment to the Postal Service on each of her claims. Hill appealed only the rejection of her retaliation claim. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

Carla Hill began working for the Postal Service in 1995 and has been at the Hazel Crest, Illinois, facility since 1998. She was promoted to full-time letter carrier in 1999. James Fuscaldo was Hill's supervisor through 2006. The management at the Hazel Crest office changed relatively frequently. Karen Mysukens was Postmaster until July 2003, when Patrick Kavanaugh took over. Syed Ahmed took over the post briefly in the spring of 2006, and Beverly Greene became Postmaster in May 2006.

From 2002 through 2005, Hill filed a series of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints against her supervisors, including Kavanaugh and Fuscaldo, claiming that they discriminated against her. She also contacted an EEO specialist on other occasions that did not result in a formal complaint being filed.*fn1 Lower- level employees at the Hazel Crest office were generally aware of Hill's EEO activities.

Hill hurt her back while on duty in November 2002. The Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs ("OWCP") certified her injury as work-related, and she was placed on "limited duty" status. Employees on limited duty status are guaranteed eight hours of paid work each day, even if no work is available within the injured employee's work restrictions. Hill's limited duty status was to last until September 2003.

As luck would have it, Hill claims that she injured her back again in September 2003 and wanted to reapply for limited duty status. Kavanaugh erroneously told her to fill out the form for a recurrence of injury, rather than the proper form for a new injury. Dale Schultz of OWCP handled Hill's claim for her new injury. Kavanaugh wrote a letter to Schultz stating that Kavanaugh did not believe Hill's injury was as serious as she claimed it to be and requesting that Schultz deny her request to be put back on limited duty status.

Schultz ultimately placed Hill on "light duty" status. Employees on light duty status are not guaranteed eight hours of work each day; management has discretion to send light duty status employees home without pay if there is no work available within their physical limitations. From December 2003 through July 2004, Fuscaldo and Kavanaugh sent Hill home without pay for 618 hours, resulting in approximately $12,000 of foregone wages. During that same period, other employees in the Hazel Crest facility worked 821 hours of overtime.

Hill was interested in obtaining a position as a window clerk as early as 2000. She twice submitted her written application to become a window clerk: first in February 2000 to Steve Schneider, and again in March 2003 to Karen Myuskens. She also documented her interest in the window clerk position in a 2004 settlement agreement. Fuscaldo was aware of her interest in the window clerk position.

A window clerk position became available in the Hazel Crest facility in August 2005, June 2006, and March 2007. Fuscaldo hired Suzanne Hankins in 2005 and Carol Mottley in 2006. Beverly Greene hired Kendra McGhee for the window clerk position in 2007. Hill did not apply in writing with Fuscaldo in 2005 or 2006 or with Greene in 2007. Hankins, Mottley, and McGhee all submitted their interest for the position in writing prior to being hired for the position. The Postal Service did not produce any of these letters during discovery.

Fuscaldo and Greene both stated that their policy was to hire whoever requested the position first in writing with the postmaster at the time. The Postal Service concedes that this policy is undocumented, and a Postal Service handbook says that hiring decisions are based on seniority or qualifications. The Postal Service also did not mention the "first-come, first-served" policy in response to an interrogatory asking about the Postal Service's hiring practices.

The district court granted summary judgment to the Postal Service on all of Hill's claims, finding that the reduction in her hours was not an adverse action and that she failed to show the Postal Service's proffered reason ...


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