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RITCHIE v. HENDERSON

August 24, 2001

CRAIG S. RITCHIE
V.
WILLIAM J. HENDERSON, POSTMASTER GENERAL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DuBOIS, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment with Respect to Plaintiffs Instatement Claims (Document No. 21, filed December 29, 2000); Defendant's Motion to Attach Plaintiffs Back Pay Funds (Document No. 22, filed December 29, 2000); Plaintiffs Cross Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Document No. 23, filed January 12, 2001); Plaintiffs Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Attach Plaintiff's Back Pay Funds (Document No. 24, filed January 12, 2001); Defendant's Opposition to Plaintiffs Cross Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and Reply to Plaintiffs Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Attach Back Pay (Document No. 25, filed January 22, 2001); Defendant's Reply to Plaintiffs Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Document No. 26, filed January 29, 2001); Declaration of Craig S. Ritchie (Document No. 27, filed April 30, 2001); and Defendant's Response to Declaration of Plaintiff Craig Ritchie (Document No. 28, filed May 11, 2001). Within these documents are three separate motions and plaintiffs request for discovery: 1) Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment with Respect to the Instatement Claims; 2) Plaintiffs Cross Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on the issue of whether the EEOC's Reconsideration Decision, which found the United States liable for discrimination, is binding on the Agency; 3) plaintiffs request to deny or postpone ruling on defendant's motion for partial summary judgment so that the parties may engage in formal discovery pursuant to Rule 56(f); and 4) Defendant's Motion to Attach Back-Pay Funds.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment with Respect to the Instatement Claims; deny Plaintiffs Cross Motion for Partial Summary Judgment; grant plaintiffs request for discovery with respect to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment; and deny as moot Defendant's Motion to Attach Back-Pay Funds.

II. BACKGROUND

This case arises out of plaintiffs termination as an employee of the United States Postal Service ("USPS"), and is brought pursuant to §§ 501 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 791, et seq.

Plaintiff was a transitional letter carrier ("TE") at the Plymouth Meeting Post Office from November 28, 1992 through November 7, 1993. Transitional employees were used by the Postal Service to fill interim staffing needs. These employees were hired for 359 day terms with no guarantee of being permanently hired by the USPS. See Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment with Respect to the Instatement Claims, n. 1.

On July 12, 1993, Plaintiff filed an Informal Complaint of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") office against the postmaster of the Plymouth Meeting Post Office, Barbara Stephens, alleging that, while Ms. Stephens was authorized to hire three part-time flexible letter carriers ("PTF carriers")*fn1, Ms. Stephens did not do any hiring because plaintiff was on the hiring register and she did not want to hire plaintiff. He later added a second complaint against Ms. Stephens, alleging that on August 9, 1993, plaintiff received a Letter of Warning for failure to meet the performance requirements of a TE. He claims that he was discriminated against because of cognitive disabilities, namely memory loss stemming from his Lyme disease. See Informal Complaint of Discrimination, attached to Document No. 21 ("Ex.D-2").

Plaintiff was also on the hiring register for the Blue Bell Post Office in 1993 and states that he was eligible for a PTF carrier position and a clerk position at that Post Office. He was interviewed for a PTF carrier position at Blue Bell in November 1993. See EEO Investigative Affidavit of John J. Ryan, Jr., dated May 25, 1994, attached to Document No. 21 ("Ex.D-17"). Thereafter, the Blue Bell supervisor spoke with Ms. Stephens, who informed the supervisor about plaintiffs EEO activity and his slow casing times. See EEO Investigative Affidavit of Barbara Stephens, dated May 19, 1994, attached to Document No. 21 ("D-16"). Plaintiff was not hired as a PTF carrier or a clerk at the Blue Bell Post Office.

Plaintiff filed three formal EEO complaints between September 1993 and February 1994 in which he alleged, inter alia, that he was dismissed from his TE position, and not hired for several open PTF carrier positions at both the Plymouth Meeting and Blue Bell Post Offices, as a result of disability discrimination and retaliation by Ms. Stephens. See Ritchie v. Runyon, 1998 WL 72179, *1 (E.E.O.C. Feb. 10, 1998). Specifically, he alleged that Ms. Stephens discriminated against him in July 1993 on the basis of disability when she told him that she would not hire him for one of the PTF carrier jobs, and that she did not fill these positions until she got rid of plaintiff. He also alleged that his position on a Plymouth Meeting hiring register,*fn2 established shortly after his dismissal, was adversely affected because of his termination. Plaintiff further alleged that, after his dismissal from the Plymouth Meeting Post Office, he was not hired as a PTF carrier at the Blue Bell Post Office because of statements Ms. Stephens made to the Blue Bell supervisor about plaintiff. Id. at *2-4.

After a hearing on October 13, 1994, an administrative judge issued a bench decision on November 10, 1994 recommending a finding of no discrimination on all issues raised by plaintiff — the judge found that plaintiff was not a qualified individual with a disability and therefore was not protected under the Rehabilitation Act, and that there was no retaliation with respect to either the Plymouth Meeting or Blue Bell PTF carrier positions at issue in this case. Ritchie v. Runyon, 1998 WL 72179 at *2. Based on this EEOC decision, the USPS issued a Final Agency Decision on January 23, 1995, finding no discrimination against Plaintiff. See Final Agency Decision, dated January 23, 1995, attached to Document No. 21 ("Ex.D-5").

Plaintiff appealed the Final Agency Decision to the EEOC Office of Federal Operations ("Office of Federal Operations") which reversed, in large part, the findings of the administrative judge on February 10, 1998. See Ritchie v. Runyon, 1998 WL 72179. In the decision, the Office of Federal Operations concluded that plaintiff was discriminated against on the basis of disability by the Plymouth Meeting Postmaster because she did not take make reasonable accommodations for his memory problem, and that she harbored some animosity against plaintiff. Id. at *7. The Office of Federal Operations ordered the USPS to expunge all disciplinary action taken against plaintiff, including its removal notice from plaintiffs employment file, and to pay plaintiff back pay for the remainder of the TE term, and for a second TE term, based on a finding that TE's generally were appointed to a second term. Further, the USPS was ordered to investigate plaintiffs claim for compensatory damages. It finally ordered the USPS to place plaintiff retroactively into a PTF carrier position, finding that "absent discrimination, it is . . . likely that [plaintiff] would have received one" of the three PTF carrier positions open in 1993 at Plymouth Meeting and filled in 1994. The Office of Federal Operations affirmed the finding that plaintiff was not discriminated against when he was not hired for a PTF carrier position at the Blue Bell Post Office because the vacancy in question was canceled as a result of an unrelated arbitration settlement. See id. at *8.

The USPS then appealed that part of the Office of Federal Operations order which placed plaintiff in a PTF carrier position, arguing that it went beyond "make whole" relief. On February 11, 1999, the EEOC granted the USPS's motion, and modified its previous order by eliminating the instatement remedy. See Ritchie v. Henderson, 1999 WL 91441 (E.E.O.C. Feb. 11, 1999).

Plaintiff filed a pro se complaint in this case on May 14, 1999. On September 21, 1999, after the Court appointed counsel for plaintiff, he filed an Amended Complaint in which he seeks to (1) enforce the remedies ordered by the EEOC, (2) obtain an award of compensatory damages in the amount of $300,000, (3) obtain an award of punitive damages; (4) appeal the decision not to order instatement to a PTF carrier position; and (5) obtain attorney's fees. The Amended Complaint contains four counts: I) Petition for Enforcement of the Final EEOC Decision; II) Instatement to the Position of PTF Carrier Position; III) Discrimination on the Basis of Disability with Regard to the PTF Position; and IV) Retaliation with Regard to the PTF Position.

The case was placed in the Civil Suspense file by Order dated October 25, 1999 so as to give the parties an opportunity to proceed with private mediation. That effort was unsuccessful.

The claim relating to the Blue Bell PTF carrier position was not presented in the Amended Complaint, but, by Order dated December 7, 2000, "Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is further amended by agreement so as to incorporate a claim for reinstatement at the Blue Bell Post Office."*fn3 The claim relating to the Blue Bell clerk position was raised for the first time in Plaintiffs Cross Motion for Partial Summary Judgment filed January 12, 2001.

Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment with Respect to Plaintiffs Instatement Claims and a Motion to Attach Plaintiffs Back Pay Funds on December 29, 2000. On January 12, 2001, plaintiff filed his Cross Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on the issue of whether the EEOC's Reconsideration Decision is binding on the USPS. That motion also included a request to deny or postpone ruling on defendant's motion for summary judgment so that the parties may engage in formal discovery. The Court will rule on these motions in turn.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW FOR A MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

"If the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law[,]" summary judgment shall be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The Supreme Court has explained that Rule 56(c) requires "the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial — whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Therefore, "a motion for summary judgment must be granted unless the party opposing the motion can adduce evidence which, when considered in light of that party's burden of proof at trial, could be the basis for a jury finding in that party's favor." J.E. Mamiye & Sons, Inc. v. Fidelity Bank, 813 F.2d 610, 618 (3d Cir. 1987) (citing Anderson and Celotex Corp.).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the evidence must be considered in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970) (quoting United States v. Diebold, 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962)). However, the party opposing summary judgment "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Therefore, "[i]f the evidence [offered by the nonmoving party] is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505 ...


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