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Byron Armfield v. John E. Potter

January 12, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall


Armfield has filed several Title VII claims, alleging that he was discriminated against based on race, color, gender, and disability, and also that he was retaliated against for filing EEOC charges. The Postmaster General ("the Post Office") moves for summary judgment on all counts, and Armfield argues only that genuine issues of material fact remain on his race discrimination claim.*fn1 Armfield does not respond to any of the defendant's arguments regarding gender, disability, or retaliation under Title VII, and the court assumes, therefore, that he does not oppose the dismissal of those claims.*fn2 For the reasons stated below, the court grants the Post Office's motion for summary judgment.


A. Undisputed Facts

The undisputed facts of this case are as follows. Armfield, a black male, was employed with the Post Office as a mail carrier beginning in October 1989. During his tenure at the Post Office, Armfield had, on several occasions between 1994 and 1999, received discipline for attendance problems and other violations of the Post Office's policies. Armfield's direct supervisor, Carone Pierce, who is also black, typically signed off on these discipline writeups along with Postmaster Sommers, who is white. Pierce and Armfield saw each other socially and worked together for years.

On February 9, 1999, Armfield was issued a notice of removal by the Post Office for his failure to maintain a regular schedule during the period of September 3, 1998 through February 2, 1999. This notice was signed on behalf of Pierce, who gave Armfield the letter. On March 1, 1999, Armfield filed a union grievance, and the issue was settled through mediation such that Armfield received only a two-week suspension and was allowed to return to work as of August 14, 1999. Colleen Kelly, a labor relations specialist for the Post Office, authorized this action.

Slightly before Armfield was to return to work, however, he was in a car accident and injured his back. Armfield obtained a note from his doctor dated August 2, 1999, which stated that Armfield was under his doctor's care and that Armfield was "advised to refrain from work for the next 2 weeks." (Pl. Ex. E. to 56.1 Statement) Armfield did not provide this letter to the Post Office. (See Armfield Dep. at 48.). Armfield contacted Kelly at some time before August 14th to inform her that, as a result of his injuries, he would be unable to return to work on that date as originally planned. Kelly then told Armfield that he would need to provide the Post Office with a doctor's note to excuse any absence that would last more than three days, but whether or not Armfield was told that he needed to provide this note immediately or upon his return to work is disputed.*fn3

Armfield assumed that "Ms. Kelly would make Mr. Sommers and whomever else needs to know aware of the outcome of" his previous conversation with Kelly where he had told her that he had been injured. (Id.)

Armfield failed to return to work on August 14, 1999. In response, the Post Office sent certified letters to Armfield at 4521 S. LeClaire Avenue in Chicago ("the LeClaire Address") on September 9, 1999 and September 20, 1999, indicating its intent to terminate Armfield if he did not provide medical documentation justifying his absences. Armfield did not receive either of these letters, as indicated by certified mail receipts that were unsigned and returned to the Post Office. The LeClaire Address was the address that Armfield had placed on file with the Post Office, and he also provided this address to the Department of Labor, the EEOC, and other entities throughout 1999 and 2000. Armfield admits that he received at least some pieces of mail from these other entities at the LeClaire Address in 1999 and 2000, such as documentation relating to his worker's compensation claim and a letter from the EEOC.

However, Armfield contends that he moved from the LeClaire Address to Palos Hills before the Post Office sent him its notices of its intent to terminate. But Armfield never followed the Post Office's procedures to formally change his mailing address. Nothing in the record indicates that Armfield provided a Palos Hills address for any official purposes. Pierce testified that he was aware that Armfield moved somewhere else but that (1) the LeClaire Address was the only address that the Post Office had and (2) the Post Office is required to mail official documentation to an employee's address of record. In addition to the letters, Armfield's supervisors placed multiple calls to Armfield to ask him to return to work, but they were unable to reach him.

On October 22, 1999, the Post Office sent another notice of removal to Armfield at the LeClaire Address, and Armfield's mother signed for that notice on November 22, 1999. In this notice, the Post Office stated that Armfield was to be terminated as a result of his being "Absent Without Official Leave" (AWOL). The notice stated that, even though Kelly had told Armfield that he was "required to submit acceptable medical documentation . . . to cover [his] absence," Armfield had "failed to contact this office or submit any [medical] documentation as required." In addition, the notice referred to several of Armfield's previous disciplinary infractions that occurred from July 1994 to November 1998, which were considered by the Post Office in making its termination decision. The letter informed Armfield of his right to file a union grievance within fourteen days of receipt. He did not file such a grievance.

Armfield returned to work on or about January 24, 2000. Armfield had not provided written medical documentation to the Post Office before he returned to work or upon his return to work. By letter dated January 28, 2000, the Post Office notified Armfield that his removal would be effective February 5, 2000, since he had neither filed medical documentation with the Post Office nor a grievance with his union. This action was authorized by Lisa Ward on behalf of Pierce and Postmaster Sommers. However, when the Post Office sought to obtain his signature on the notice of removal, Armfield refused to sign it.

The record contains a letter from Armfield's doctor stating that he was disabled from June 19, 1999 through January 23, 2000, which covers the entire duration of Armfield's absence from the Post Office, but that letter is dated February 20, 2000,*fn4 nearly a month after Armfield's return to work and over two weeks after Armfield's termination date of February 5, 2000.

After the Post Office fired Armfield, he filed an administrative EEO complaint on April 19, 2000. The EEOC issued a decision denying his claim and granting the Post Office summary disposition on all counts on October 1, 2002. The Post Office formally adopted this decision on October 4, 2002, and Armfield's administrative ...

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