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Lilly v. Potter

November 18, 2010

PATRICIA LILLY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN E. POTTER, POSTMASTER GENERAL, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan H. Lefkow

OPINION AND ORDER

Patricia Lilly filed suit against John Potter in his capacity as Postmaster General. Lilly seeks damages for retaliation in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq.; interference with Lilly's rights under FMLA; and discrimination in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Rehabilitation Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 791 et seq. Before the court is Potter's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants Potter's motion [#49] with respect to Lilly's retaliation and discrimination claims and denies it with respect to Lilly's interference claim.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). To determine whether any genuine fact exists, the court must pierce the pleadings and assess the proof as presented in depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits that are part of the record. Id. While the court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986), where a claim or defense is factually unsupported, it should be disposed of on summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed. 2d 265 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving there is no genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. In response, the non-moving party cannot rest on bare pleadings alone but must use the evidentiary tools listed above to designate specific material facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324; Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000).

BACKGROUND*fn1

Lilly was a part-time flexible letter carrier ("PTF") for the U.S. Postal Service ("Postal Service"). She worked at the Graceland Carrier Annex in Chicago ("Graceland"), which operates more than seventy postal routes. PTFs act as back-up letter carriers, and they can be assigned to assist in any aspect of letter carriers' duties. Potential assignments for PTFs include (1) taking mail from a truck and distributing it to mail routes, (2) preparing mail for delivery, (3) delivering mail on routes, and (4) doing collections. Additionally, Graceland management sometimes assigned PTFs to help at nearby postal stations when needed. PTFs are also able to submit bids for available routes. The bidder with the highest seniority wins, and the supervisors must honor the winning bids.

Lilly reported to three managers at Graceland -- Bernadette Davis, Jackie Cole, and Anthony Bradley. Davis and Cole were customer service supervisors, and Bradley was the station manager. Leave status for Postal Service employees, including PTFs, is maintained on an electronic database, Enterprise Resource Management System ("ERMS"). All Postal Service managers have access to ERMS, and it is part of their normal duties to check ERMS daily.

I. Lilly's December 2006 Injury

On December 1, 2006, Lilly fell while delivering mail and injured her back. Her MRI showed a herniated cervical disc, at the base of her neck. As a result, Lilly was either absent from work or limited in the work she could perform from December 2006 to January 2, 2007. Lilly filed an FMLA claim for these absences and limitations, and the Postal Service granted it in February 2007. ERMS reflected that some of Lilly's leave in December 2006 was FMLA protected.

To treat her injury, Lilly saw an orthopedist, Dr. Charles Mercier. Dr. Mercier cleared Lilly to return to work on January 2, 2007, but he prescribed continuing physical therapy sessions until Lilly fully recovered. Following doctor's orders, Lilly scheduled several physical therapy sessions in January and February 2007. When Lilly approached Cole about attending these appointments, Cole said she believed that Lilly's prescription for physical therapy was forged and that Lilly's injuries were not real. Nevertheless, Lilly attended all of her physical therapy appointments except for the last two scheduled in February. Lilly was also able to attend four unrelated medical appointments with her primary physician between January and June 2007.

During this same time, Cole issued Lilly six written disciplinary notices. On January 8, Cole issued Lilly a letter of warning for failure to follow instructions. Bradley concluded the letter of warning was procedurally defective and reduced it to an official job discussion. On April 30, Cole issued Lilly a letter of warning for being inexcusably absent on April 14. Bradley rescinded this letter because Lilly had not been scheduled to work that day. On May 3, Cole issued Lilly a seven-day suspension for insubordination, which Bradley decreased to a letter of warning. On May 14, Cole reissued the same suspension, which Bradley again decreased. On May 21, Cole issued Lilly a seven-day suspension for failure to follow instructions and unauthorized overtime. Bradley rescinded this suspension because it did not identify the date of the infraction or the route assigned. Finally, on May 28, Cole issued Lilly a letter of warning for failure to follow instructions. Once again, Bradley rescinded the discipline as procedurally defective. Shortly thereafter, on June 6, Lilly filed an EEO pre-complaint counseling form complaining about the discipline she received and route assignments she viewed as too difficult.

Because she was still in pain, Lilly bid on and requested routes with fewer stairs and residences and lower mail volume. On one occasion sometime after January 2007, Lilly told Davis that she was supposed to be accommodated because of her injury and that she was having difficulty completing Route 65, to which Cole had assigned her. During the week of April 9, 2007, Lilly successfully bid on Route 33, a route Lilly viewed as easy. Despite the Postal Service's policy of honoring these bids, Cole refused to assign Lilly to Route 33. Cole again refused to honor Lilly's bid for Route 33 on April 19 and refused to honor another bid on April 30. On another occasion, after Lilly informed Cole of an appointment with the Postal Service's employee assistance hotline, Cole assigned Lilly to Route 45, a difficult route for Lilly. Cole could have assigned Lilly to Route 33, which would have enabled Lilly to attend her appointment, but Cole assigned another PTF, Walter Miles, to the route instead. Lilly missed her appointment because she could not finish the more difficult route on time. In June, Cole took Lilly off Route 78, which was easy for Lilly, and reassigned her to a route more difficult for her. Cole assigned Miles to the now-available Route 78. Furthermore, during this time, Cole assigned Lilly to routes with heavy volumes of mail that had been allowed to accumulate by the previous carrier. On at least one occasion, when Lilly used overtime to complete these routes, Cole disciplined her for unauthorized overtime. When Lilly told Cole stairs caused her pain, Cole responded that she was sick of Lilly and did not like her.

In an incident on February 13, 2007, a co-worker threatened Lilly and called her a "bipolar bitch." Bradley Dep. 34:1-13, Feb. 19, 2009, attached as Ex. D to Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts. Lilly complained to Bradley and to another supervisor, Ms. Stern. Lilly wrote a report of the incident and requested that the Postal Service launch a formal investigation. Bradley did not investigate further, but Stern spoke with the co-worker, who denied the incident.

On June 27, 2007, Lilly sought sick leave to attend a medical appointment. A PTF's sick leave request is approved if the PTF supplies her supervisor with proper documentation of the need for leave, such as a doctor's note. Even though Lilly supplied proper documentation, Cole switched Lilly's assigned day off from June 29 to June 27, the day of Lilly's appointment, instead of granting Lilly's request. ...


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