The opinion of the court was delivered by: HARVEY BARTLE, III, District Judge
This action concerns an alleged breach of a settlement agreement
("settlement agreement") between plaintiff, Darlene Burnett, and her
former employer, the United States Postal Service. The settlement
agreement, which the parties signed on September 27, 2000, terminated
plaintiff's discrimination claim filed with the Postal Service's Equal
Employment Opportunity (EEO) office. Before the court is the motion of
defendant John E. Potter, Postmaster General of the United States,*fn1
for summary judgment.
We may grant summary judgment only if there is no genuine issue of
material fact and the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a
matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Substantive law determines which
facts are material. Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute
is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 254. We review all
evidence and make all reasonable inferences from the evidence in the
light most favorable to the non-movant. See Wicker v. Consol. Rail
Corp., 142 F.3d 690, 696 (3d Cir. 1998). The non-moving party may
not rest upon mere allegations or denials of the moving party's pleadings
but must set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for
trial through the use of its own affidavits and depositions. Lujan
v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990).
The material facts are undisputed. Plaintiff Darlene Burnett began
working at a Pennsylvania office of the United States Postal Service in
1996. From August 1998 through January 1999, plaintiff worked at an annex
to the Southeastern Processing and Distribution Center ("Southeastern
P&DC") in Oaks, Pennsylvania, where she processed mail. On January
24, 1999, plaintiff stopped working because she suffered from swelling in
both hands as a result of a job-related injury. Thereafter, Dr. Harold J.
Einsig found that she exhibited signs of early carpal tunnel syndrome.
When plaintiff returned to work in May 1999, she was assigned to what
is called the nixie section of the Southeastern P&DC. In the nixie
section, employees perform functions such as taping torn mail and hand
stamping mail with "return to sender" markings. It is a common assignment
for injured employees. The
terms of plaintiff's reassignment were governed by the American
Postal Workers Union Collective Bargaining Agreement (the "Collective
Bargaining Agreement"), which provides in relevant part that the
"provisions and conditions for reassignment to temporary or permanent
light duty . . . will be the responsibility of each installation head
to implement . . . after local negotiations." Collective Bargaining
Agreement, at Art. 13, § 1(B).
Plaintiff claims that she was re-injured after working in the nixie
section for two or three days. She sought treatment from a physician who
placed restrictions on her work activity and instructed her to rest for
one hour after each hour of work performed. Between December 1999 and
around August 2000, plaintiff's pain and medical restrictions were such
that she was unable to perform many of the functions of her assignment in
the nixie section. As a result, in August 2000, plaintiff was assigned to
the Absence Control Office, where she received calls from employees who
were not reporting to work and logged relevant information related to
In or around October 1999, plaintiff filed a complaint with the United
States Postal Service EEO Complaints Processing Office, alleging
discrimination based on her physical disabilities bilateral
carpal tunnel disease and aggravation of cervical degenerative disc
disease. Plaintiff, in her EEO complaint, claimed that her assignment
to the nixie section aggravated her condition. She was counseled and
right to file a formal EEO complaint of discrimination on October
1, 1999. She did so on October 6.
On September 27, 2000, before the agency had issued a determination on
plaintiff's EEO discrimination claim, she and the Postal Service entered
into a settlement agreement. In exchange for withdrawing her EEO claim
and waiving her right to proceed upon her disability discrimination claim
raised in the EEO complaint, the settlement agreement provided in
pertinent part that plaintiff
will not be moved from her current limited duty
assignment in the Absence Control Office until and
unless she either voluntarily transfers to another
facility, voluntarily bids to another position to
which she is otherwise qualified or her medical
restrictions change and she returns to full duty.
Should the Absence Control position be eliminated
[plaintiff] will have input onto any newly
proposed Limited duty assignment.
Settlement Agreement at ¶ 2. It was during the settlement
negotiations that plaintiff obtained the addition of the last sentence of
the above-quoted paragraph, that is that "[s]hould the Absence Control
position be eliminated [plaintiff] will have input onto any newly
proposed Limited duty assignment."
Plaintiff worked in the Absence Control Office until May 2001, at which
time she began experiencing pain in her wrists again. She did not work
from May 2001 until April 2002. In January 2002, the Absence Control
Office closed as part of the Postal Service's national directive to
centralize absence control functions through the Attendance
Control/Resource Management Database.
When plaintiff returned to work on April 3, 2002, she was assigned to
the nixie section. Richard J. Falcone, the Light Duty Coordinator and
Attendance Supervisor at the Postal Service's Southeastern P&DC, had
determined that plaintiff's assignment to this work met the medical
restrictions in the disability certificate from plaintiff's doctor. The
certificate limited her to "very light duty" for four hours per day, with
no lifting or extreme use of the affected extremity and no repetitive use
of the affected extremity.
Plaintiff claims that her work in the nixie section aggravated her
medical condition. In October 2002, she provided the Postal Service with
new medical restrictions, which limited her to strict sedentary work with
no repetitive use of either arm. The Postal Service then advised
plaintiff that it would be unable to accommodate her new medical
Around August 17, 2002, plaintiff sent a letter to Administrative Judge
Donna Nutter-Rodwell at the Lancaster District EEO Office alleging that
the Postal Service was not complying with the settlement agreement.*fn2
Her complaint alleging breach of the settlement agreement made its way
through the EEO administrative process, and she eventually received her
sue letter on May 22, 2003.*fn3 She timely filed the instant
action on July 10, 2003.
Plaintiff claims that the Postal Service violated the settlement
agreement because she did not "have input onto any newly proposed Limited
duty assignment" when her position in the Absence Control Office was
eliminated. Settlement Agreement at ¶ 2. She maintains that her