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Lucas v. Brennan

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

January 10, 2020

SHERRY G. LUCAS, Plaintiff,
v.
MEGAN J BRENNAN, Postmaster General of the United States Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARY M. ROWLAND UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Sherry Lucas (“Lucas”), who is proceeding pro se, brought this lawsuit against Defendant Megan J. Brennan, the Postmaster General of the United States (“the Postal Service”), alleging race, gender, and age discrimination and retaliation claims pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and the Age Discrimination Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. §621, et seq. The Postal Service argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because Lucas cannot establish a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation on any of her claims. For the reasons stated below, the Postal Service's motion for summary judgment [39] is granted.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is proper where “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A genuine dispute as to any material fact exists if “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). The substantive law controls which facts are material. Id.

         The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of establishing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323 (1986). After a “properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250 (quotation omitted). Construing the evidence and facts supported by the record in favor of the non-moving party, the Court gives the non-moving party “the benefit of reasonable inferences from the evidence, but not speculative inferences in [its] favor.” White v. City of Chi., 829 F.3d 837, 841 (7th Cir. 2016) (internal citations omitted). “The controlling question is whether a reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the non-moving party on the evidence submitted in support of and opposition to the motion for summary judgment.” Id. (citation omitted). “As the ‘put up or shut up' moment in a lawsuit, summary judgment requires a non-moving party to respond to the moving party's properly-supported motion by identifying specific, admissible evidence showing that there is a genuine dispute of material fact for trial.” Grant v. Trustees of Indiana Univ., 870 F.3d 562, 568 (7thCir. 2017) (citations and quotation marks omitted).

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         In May of 2016, Lucas, an African-American female, was terminated from her job at the Postal Service where she had worked for approximately 18 years.[1] She was 55 years old at the time of her termination. She began working with the Postal Service in 1998 as a part-time flexible mail handler. She was promoted to an associate supervisor position in 2001 and then to a supervisor position in 2003. In 2006, Lucas was promoted to the position of Manager of Customer Service in Gary, Indiana Post Office and reported to Dwayne Russell. In March of 2013, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) filed a class action grievance against the Postal Service alleging violations of various articles of the NALC National Agreement, the Joint Statement on Violence and Behavior in the Workplace and sections of the Employee Labor Relations Manual due to Lucas' conduct towards her staff. In February 2014, the NALC class action was settled in a pre-arbitration settlement agreement. The agreement was conditioned upon Lucas making “a public apology to letter carriers in the Gary office acknowledging her behavior is not acceptable and a pledge to change her approach in treatment of fellow human beings.” (Dkt. 40-2 at 3). Lucas refused to make the apology and was told on multiple occasions by the Labor Relationship Specialist, the Acting Postmaster and the Acting Manager of Post Office Operations that she was required to deliver the apology as written by the arbitrator. After her continued refusal, she was issued a notice of proposed removal. Her removal was effective on May 27, 2016. Lucas filed an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board (“MSPB”) challenging her removal from the Postal Service. In March 2017, the MSPB upheld Lucas' termination. Lucas has appealed that decision; her appeal is currently pending before the MSPB. Lucas' termination from the Postal Service is not at issue in this lawsuit.

         Pending before this Court are Lucas' allegations that beginning in August of 2010 while working for the Postal Service she was subjected to sexual harassment, retaliation, discrimination, and hostile work environment on the basis of her race, gender and age. Lucas filed a formal Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) complaint in October of 2011 alleging fourteen separate incidents of discrimination and retaliation between August of 2010 and September 2011. These claims include: (1) On or around August 4, 2010, Lucas's immediate supervisor, Dwayne Russell (“Russell”), made a comment regarding Lucas's breasts; (2) On September 14, 2010, Lucas was temporarily moved to a night shift and did not receive night differential pay; (3) On October 20, 2010, Lucas was assigned a “retail count” while she was approved for leave under the FMLA; (4) Lucas was subject to an investigative interview covering three topics in November 2010; (5) Lucas requested sick leave for November 4, 2010, but her time was input incorrectly and was not corrected; (6) Lucas's requests to meet with Russell and Post Office Operations Manager David Conwell (“Conwell”) were ignored; (7) Lucas was falsely accused by Russell of calling a co-worker a bitch; (8) Lucas was issued a letter of warning on November 24, 2010; (9) Lucas was placed in an unfavorable assignment starting March 28, 2011; (10) Lucas applied for two postings for the vacancy of Postmaster East Chicago but was not granted an interview for either announcement; (11) Lucas was denied a request for personal leave in September 2011 and was denied her requested weeks for annual leave in July 2011; (12) Lucas was issued letters of concern in November and December of 2010 and January of 2011; (13) Lucas was accused of breaking a photo copier in December 2010; and (14) on two dates in September 2011, Lucas worked but was not paid. (Dkt. 40 at 4-5; Dkt. 40-7 at 1-2). The Final Agency Decision issued on May 1, 2015 found no discrimination; this decision was affirmed by the EEO Office of Federal Operations on May 15, 2017.

         Lucas filed a second EEO complaint on July 12, 2014, alleging five separate instances of discrimination. This complaint was dismissed on June 30, 2015 as untimely because Lucas failed to initiate contact with an EEO Counselor within 45 days of the allegedly discriminatory action as provided by 29 C.F.R. §1614.105(a)(1). (Dkt. 40-34). This decision was affirmed on May 2, 2017 (Dkt. 40-35).

         Lucas filed this action on December 13, 2017, claiming that the Postal Service discriminated against her in violation of Title VII and the ADEA and that the Postal Service retaliated against her in violation of Title VII for her prior EEO activity.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Compliance with Local Rule 56.1

         As an initial matter, Lucas did not respond to the Postal Service's Local Rule 56.1 statement of facts. Therefore, the Postal Service's uncontested facts are deemed admitted. (Dkt. 77).[2] The Court has discretion to require strict compliance with the local rules and “even pro se litigants must follow these rules.” Welcher-Butler v. Brennan, 619 Fed.Appx. 550, 550 (7th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted). See also Coleman v. Goodwill Indus. of Se. Wis., Inc., 423 Fed.Appx. 642, 643 (7th Cir. 2011) (“Though courts are solicitous of pro se litigants, they may nonetheless require strict compliance with local rules.”) (citations omitted).

         Local Rule 56.1 requires, among other things, the party opposing summary judgment provide “a response to each numbered paragraph in the moving party's statement, including, in the case of any disagreement, specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon.” The Court deems the Postal Service's LR 56.1 facts admitted because (1) Lucas failed to respond to them; and (2) they are supported by citations to the record. While the Court liberally construes Lucas' pleadings and draws reasonable inferences from the evidence in her favor, the Court is not obligated “to scour the record looking for factual disputes.” Zoretic v. Darge, 832 F.3d 639, 641 (7th Cir. 2016) (citations and quotations omitted); Gogos v. AMS Mech. Sys., 678 Fed.Appx. 411, 413 (7th Cir. 2017) (when a party opposing summary judgment does not cite to admissible evidence to deny asserted undisputed facts by the moving party, the facts are deemed admitted).

         II. Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

         To succeed on her Title VII discrimination claims, Lucas must demonstrate that “(1) [s]he is a member of a class protected by the statute, (2) that [s]he has been the subject of some form of adverse employment action (or that [s]he has been subjected to a hostile work environment), and (3) that the employer took this adverse action on account of [her] membership in the protected class.” Abrego v. Wilkie, 907 F.3d 1004, 1012 (7th Cir. 2018) (citation omitted). “To prevail on an age-discrimination claim, the plaintiff must prove that his age was the ‘but-for' cause of the challenged job action . . . that, but for his age, the adverse action would not have occurred.” Wrolstad v. Cuna Mut. Ins. Soc'y, 911 F.3d 450, 454 (7th Cir. 2018) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Additionally, to survive summary judgment on her retaliation claims, Lucas must show that (1) she engaged in a statutorily protected activity; (2) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) there was a causal connection between the two. Lauth v. Covance, Inc., 863 F.3d 708, 716 (7th Cir. 2017). The Seventh Circuit has “discarded the distinction between direct and indirect methods of proof in employment discrimination cases and clarified that all evidence must be evaluated as a whole.” Id. at 715 (citing Ortiz v. Werner Enters., Inc., 834 F.3d 760, 765-66 (7th Cir. 2016)). At the summary judgment stage, courts are simply to determine whether “the evidence would permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that the plaintiff's race, ethnicity, sex, religion, or other proscribed factor caused the [adverse employment actions].” Ortiz, 834 F.3d at 765; see Carson v. Lake Cty., Ind., 865 F.3d 526, 532-33 (7th Cir. 2017) (applying Ortiz to ADEA claim); Lauth 863 F.3d at 716 (applying Ortiz to retaliation claim).

         The Postal Service argues that summary judgment should be granted in its favor because: (1) Lucas cannot make her prima facie case for any of the discrimination or retaliation claims addressed in her 2011 EEO complaint; and (2) that the claims made in her 2014 EEO complaint are time barred. The Court will first address the claims alleged in Lucas 2011 EEO complaint.[3]

         A. Lucas's ...


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