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Ismail v. Donahoe

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

July 14, 2015

PATRICK DONAHOE, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service, Defendant.


JAMES B. ZAGEL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Yousef Ismail ("Ismail" or "Plaintiff") filed a two-count complaint against Defendant Patrick Donahoe, Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service ("USPS" or "Defendant") alleging that Defendant violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 2000e, et seq., by discriminating against him due to his race (Count I) and by retaliating against him after grievances and complaints had been filed (Count II). This matter is presently before the court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is granted in its entirety.


For the purposes of this motion, I consider the record in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, and draw all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff's favor. Plaintiff Yousef Ismail, born in Israel and raised in Jordan, came to the United States in 1992 and became a citizen in 1996. Plaintiff began working at Carpentersville Post Office, a branch of the United States Postal Service ("USPS") in August 2001 as a city letter carrier. Defendant USPS employed, at all relevant times, Ralph Kaiser as Postmaster. From the earliest conduct in question, Plaintiff's immediate supervisor changed from Dennis Lesiz to Dennis Arneson.

A. Events of 2003

From January to July 2003, Plaintiff filed several grievances against Defendant relating to a personal injury, assigned duties, and failure to grant requested emergency leave. These actions culminated in Plaintiff filing an Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaint against Defendant on August 7, 2003, in which Plaintiff asserted that Kaiser had discriminated against Plaintiff due to his race and disability from his prior injury. This matter was litigated all the way to this Court and granted in favor of defendant on summary judgment. Ismail v. Potter, No. 05-C-409, 2006 WL 2989293, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 18, 2006).

B. Events of 2010

On December 10, 2010, Plaintiff began sorting through the mail for his route when supervisor Dawn Ellison approached him. Ellison was filling in for Plaintiff's immediate supervisor, Arneson. Ellison asked if he would be late returning from his route, and Plaintiff responded that he would let her know if he needed any additional time. Shortly thereafter, Ellison told Kaiser that Plaintiff would be late and asked Kaiser to speak with Plaintiff.

Kaiser approached Plaintiff and asked him why he was going to be late. Although Plaintiff stated that he would not be late and had no reason to believe he would return late from his route, he told Kaiser that the snow on the streets and sidewalks could affect his route. Plaintiff informed Kaiser that he would not be late and invited Kaiser to come out and watch his route. Plaintiff left the post office early to ensure his timely return, and Kaiser went out to observe him on his route. Around ten minutes into his route, at roughly 912 Berkley Road, Plaintiff became aware that Kaiser was observing Plaintiff.

At this particular point along his route, Plaintiff could not simply cross through the yard due to bushes along the property line. Plaintiff approached the sidewalk to walk over to the next home, but Kaiser ordered Plaintiff to use the street instead. Plaintiff instead walked across the sidewalk, through the snow, and kept on his route towards the next mailbox. Kaiser exited his vehicle and approached Plaintiff where they exchanged words. Kaiser demanded to know why Plaintiff was not following orders while Plaintiff protested that he was doing as he had been ordered.

Feeling threatened, Plaintiff used his cell phone to dial 911 to call the police while continuing on his route, and Kaiser returned to his vehicle. Upon arriving on the scene, Police Officer Straub spoke with Plaintiff. Plaintiff informed Officer Straub that Kaiser had been threatening him. The officer told Plaintiff that this seemed likely to be an employment issue and not something for the police. The officer told Plaintiff that he should call his union.

Kaiser then returned to the post office and spoke with Labor Relations who suggested charges of insubordination after further observation with a witness. Plaintiff continued on his route and contacted his union representative who informed him that if Kaiser returned, Plaintiff had a right to have a union representative present for any further discussions.

Just over an hour later, Kaiser returned to Plaintiff's route with Ellison. The two observed Plaintiff deliver mail to an entire street before approaching him. They questioned Plaintiff about his chosen path, and Plaintiff informed the pair that he wanted a union representative if the questioning was going to continue. Ultimately, Kaiser ordered Plaintiff to immediately stop delivering mail and return to the post office.

Later that day, Plaintiff was put on emergency placement, upon a recommendation by Labor Relations. A hearing was held on December 16, 2010, where the Labor Relations department along with a postmaster from another facility agreed to issue a two-week suspension without loss of pay or time. Plaintiff was not informed of this decision until Kaiser instructed Plaintiff to return on December 28, 2010, and issued the two-week suspension. As a result, Plaintiff was on emergency placement for a total of seventeen days without pay.

On March 25, 2011, Plaintiff filed a complaint with EEO regarding the events from December 2010. Plaintiff complained about being disciplined twice for the same issue and the resulting loss of wages. Plaintiff was ultimately compensated for all but one day and a few hours of pay and given an amount to compensate for the overtime he might have worked"but did not work"during the time period that he was off duty due to the holidays.

C. Events of 2012

On March 2, 2012, Plaintiff was involved in a verbal confrontation with two other postal workers, David Sherrill and Hye Suk Kim. Plaintiff had approached Sherrill and Kim as they argued, exchanging harsh words with Sherrill. As a result, Sherrill reported the incident to his supervisor Arneson, claiming that Plaintiff had threatened him. Arneson collected three statements: one from Sherrill, one from Plaintiff, and one from Kristy Heitmann, who had observed the verbal exchange. Arneson took all of the statements to Kaiser who was already on the phone with Labor Relations. Labor Relations suggested that both employees be put on emergency placement. Arneson agreed and followed through with the advice. Both men were on emergency placement until March 13, 2012, when they were both given letters of removal, terminating them from the Postal Service.

Plaintiff filed an EEO complaint regarding these actions in June 2012. Plaintiff and Sherrill also filed grievances with the union to challenge their termination. Sherrill's grievance was settled in May 2012, and he returned to work. Plaintiff's matter, however, was not settled until July 18, 2012. When Plaintiff returned to work on July 18, 2012, Kaiser approached him in his casing unit, which is only two feet by four feet. Kaiser claims to have greeted Plaintiff three times earlier that morning and was ignored all three times. Kaiser asked Arneson to bring over the mail carrier's manual (M41) to have Plaintiff read the section exhorting mail carriers to be courteous and obliging, asking if he knew what the word courtesy meant. Plaintiff responded that he did. Kaiser claims that this is when Plaintiff threatened him by saying, "If you ever try to fire me again, I will kill you." Arneson, however, was standing a short distance behind the men and the batteries to his hearing aids were ...

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