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Regino E. Razote v. John E. Potter

June 27, 2011

REGINO E. RAZOTE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN E. POTTER, POSTMASTER GENERAL, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harry D. Leinenweber

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court is Defendant Postmaster General John E. Potter's (hereinafter, the "Postal Service") Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff Regino Razote's (hereinafter, "Razote") disability discrimination, race and gender discrimination, and retaliation claims. For the reasons stated herein, the motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from the parties' Local Rule

56.1 statements, deposition testimony, and exhibits. Razote is a Filipino man who has worked as a letter carrier for the Niles branch of the U.S. Postal Service since 1994. He continues to work for the Postal Service as a letter carrier in a "limited-duty" position. Razote brought the instant four-count complaint against the Postmaster General alleging disability discrimination in violation of the Rehabilitation Act (Count I), gender and race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Counts II and III), and retaliation in violation of Title VII (Count IV). Razote's disability discrimination claim is based on his assertion that the Postal Service failed to provide him with a reasonable accommodation, forced him to work outside his medical restrictions, and forced him to take a medical leave of absence. Razote's gender and race discrimination claims are based on his allegation that similarly situated disabled female employees and those of other races were given light-duty positions while he was denied one. Razote's retaliation claim alleges that his supervisors denied him a light-duty position and forced him to work outside his job restrictions in retaliation for his having made Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaints.

In March 2005, Razote injured his back while lifting a tub of mail and suffered a sciatic nerve injury. Razote remained off of work until September 2005. When he returned to work, his physician placed certain limitations on Razote, including that he could lift no more than five pounds, stand no more than one hour at a time, and walk no more than twenty minutes at a time. Razote also was limited in his ability to climb, bend, stoop, and twist. His condition has not improved since that time, and those limitations remain in place.

Razote's physical limitations are inconsistent with his position as a letter carrier because that work requires continuous lifting of ten to thirty-five pounds and intermittent standing, walking, bending and twisting, for six to eight hours a day. Because Razote could no longer perform the regular duties of a letter carrier, the Department of Labor's Office of Worker's Compensation Programs (the "OWCP") directed the Postal Service to provide Razote with a permanent job that met his restrictions if it was possible to do so.

Subsequently, Razote was given a "limited-duty" assignment. The Postal Service assigns workers to such positions when an employee is injured on the job. Such assignments allow employees to continue working in a full-time job that is close to their prior employment, while accommodating physical restrictions. Before accepting a limited-duty assignment, an employee can review and comment on the terms of the assignment to confirm that the required tasks are within the employee's job limitations. After discussing the terms of the assignment with a supervisor, the employee and supervisor must sign a form indicating that the offer of limited-duty was accepted or declined.

The Postal Service also has a "light-duty" assignment, which is available to workers suffering from a serious injury or illness that temporarily renders the employee unable to perform his or her previous job, regardless of whether the injury occurred on the job.

A light-duty assignment must be requested in writing. It does not guarantee the availability of work or particular hours, and assignment to these positions is determined in accordance with the collective bargaining agreements between the Postal Service and its employees.

Razote was first offered a limited-duty assignment in September 2005. He accepted it and renewed such offers in January 2006, November 2006, August 2008, December 2009, and August 2010. On each occasion, Razote was able to review the terms specified in the offer of limited duty and discuss his concerns with his supervisor, Susan Dalke ("Dalke"). In each instance, Razote signed the form and accepted the offer. Although Razote acknowledges signing these forms, he contends that he is asked to perform tasks that go beyond those listed and exceed his physical capabilities. Razote testified that he signed the forms even though they did not reflect all of his job duties because he loves his job and wants to keep it. However, he testified that since December 2009, he has not been asked to perform any tasks not included on the forms.

On December 10, 2009, Razote contends he had a conversation with Dalke in which he told her that his limited-duty job was beyond his physical capabilities. Razote contends that he asked Dalke if there were any light-duty jobs available at the Post Office. He maintains that she responded by saying, "There are no light-duty jobs available at the post office at all. We can send you to rehab at Wal-mart or JC Penney." (Apparently, according to Razote's testimony, these companies have contracts with the Postal Service to provide employment to injured postal workers.)

Razote contends that he suffered a recurrence of his injury on February 12, 2010 and February 20, 2010, because his supervisors forced him to perform tasks that went beyond his limitations, including picking up heavy packages and pushing and pulling heavy equipment. Razote took a medical leave of absence and used sick time until July 31, 2010, when he was forced to return to work because he ran out of sick time. The Postal Service denies that Razote's injury was caused by his supervisors asking him to perform work that exceeded his limited-duty assignment.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate where the record shows that there is no genuine dispute as to an issue of material fact. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). A fact is material if it could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and a dispute is genuine where the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

In ruling on summary judgment, the Court does not weigh the evidence or determine the truth of the matter, but determines whether a genuine issue of material fact exists that warrants trial. Id. at 249. In addressing a motion for summary judgment, the court must review the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Vanasco v. National-Louis Univ., 137 F.3d 962, 965 (7th Cir. 1998). However, a genuine issue of fact is not shown by ...


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