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Friedlander v. Veneman

April 13, 2007

LESTER FRIEDLANDER PLAINTIFF
v.
ANN VENEMAN, SECRETARY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Vanaskie

MEMORANDUM

The parties have presented this breach of contract case to this Court for a final decision based upon a stipulated record. Plaintiff Lester Friedlander, a veterinarian formerly employed by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (the "Agency"), claims that the Agency's refusal to award him any compensatory damages breached settlement agreements that resolved certain discrimination charges he filed while employed by the FSIS. The Agency declined to award damages because it determined that Dr. Friedlander had not proven a causal relationship between his asserted damages and the matters presented in the employment discrimination complaints. Having determined that the settlement agreements did not relieve Plaintiff of the obligation of proving that alleged damages were caused by discrete wrongful acts asserted in the discrimination complaints, and further finding that the evidence presented to the Agency did not establish the requisite causal relationship, this Court concludes that the Agency did not breach the contracts in question.

I. BACKGROUND

Dr Friedlander was employed by the Agency in the FSIS from 1985 until April 29, 1995. During the early part of his career, he was assigned to the Taylor Packing Company, a very busy meat packing plant near Wyalusing, Pennsylvania. (Joint Record, Exhibit 10, Dkt. Entry 16-3, at 54.)*fn1 During this period of time, Dr. Friedlander's workload increased dramatically. He was required to supervise more inspectors, train veterinarians, and be present at the Taylor Packing plant at all hours of the day and night. (Id.) By letter dated June 20, 1995, Dr. Friedlander wrote that he "experienced major depression, an adjustment disorder, and obsessive compulsive personality problems manifested by . . . extreme stress during the last several years (prior to 08/28/92) of my employment for USDA at Taylor Packing and continued past 08/28/92." (Joint Record, Exhibit 9, Dkt. Entry 16-3, at 9.) In August of 1992, Plaintiff was transferred from Taylor Packing to the "Wyalusing Mini-Circuit," which consisted of several smaller meat packing plants. (Joint Record, Exhibit 10, Dkt. Entry 16-3, at 54.)

During Dr. Friedlander's tenure with the FSIS, he filed a number of Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaints, charging discriminatory treatment on sundry bases, including age, national origin, religion, and disability. He also charged retaliation and reprisal.

One of the complaints, bearing Agency Complaint No. 930406, proceeded to a final Agency decision of no discrimination. (Joint Record, Exhibit 6, Dkt. Entry 16-1, at 70.) Dr. Friedlander appealed the Agency determination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). On September 18, 1996, the EEOC ruled that discriminatory treatment had not been proven. (Id.) Dr. Friedlander did not seek further review of this decision.

Four other EEO Complaints were filed by Dr. Friedlander from 1993 through 1995 -- Agency Complaint Nos. 930623, 940324, 950206, 950313.*fn2 These complaints were resolved by the settlement agreements that are at issue in this litigation.

The first resolution agreement at issue here was executed by the parties on August 4, 1994 (the "1994 Resolution Agreement"), and concerned the EEO charge bearing Agency Complaint No. 940324. As set forth at page 9 of Plaintiff's initial Brief in support of his claims:

The issues in Complaint No. 940324 are whether the Plaintiff was subjected to a pattern of harassment which included: (1) negative comments in plant reviews in December of 1993, (2) an investigation conducted from September of 1993 through February of 1994, (3) discussions with plant personnel about the aforementioned investigations, and (4) the related proposed disciplinary action.*fn3 The 1994 Resolution Agreement (Joint Record, Exhibit 5, DKt. Entry 16-1 at 67-68), contained the following provisions:

FSIS AGREES TO:

1. With the approval of the Comptroller General or change in regulatory authority, make a lump sum payment in the amount of $2500.00 to Dr. Friedlander for compensatory damages incurred during the period October 1, 1993, to August 4, 1994. The claim will be submitted to the Comptroller General with in fifteen days of receipt of Dr. Friedlander's claim as specified in employee item 4, below.

2. Not contest the claim material submitted by Dr. Friedlander for compensatory damages.

3. Within 60 days, recredit to Dr. Friedlander up to eighty hours of sick leave and 40 hours of annual leave used between the period October 1, 1993 and August 4, 1994.

4. Within thirty days reissue the Agency's EEO policy statement to all employees in the Harrisburg, PA area.

DR. LESTER FRIEDLANDER AGREES TO:

1. Appeal the issue concerning discipline to the Merit Systems Protection Board.*fn4

2. Withdraw the formal EEO Complaint filed March 24, 1994 and . . . not to file any new complaint about the issues involved.

3. Release, waive and withdraw any and all claims (complaints, grievances or appeals of any sort) against FSIS and its employees and officers (in their individual and official capacities) for any concerns involved in the March 24, 1994 EEO Complaint (with the exception of the suspension issue).

4. Submit a claim within thirty days from signing this agreement stating the compensable harm he believes he suffered in respect to the issues being withdrawn, including a valuation of the harm, for submission to the Comptroller General. (Id.) The 1994 Resolution Agreement was expressed to be "a full, complete and final settlement of all the employment concerns currently raised in Dr. Friedlander's formal EEO Complaint (940324)." (Id. at 67.) Furthermore, it provided that Dr. Friedlander could request reinstatement of the underlying complaint "[i]f the terms of the agreement are not carried out (other than as a result of actions by Dr. Friedlander)," so long as he made the request for reinstatement within thirty days of the alleged failure to implement the agreement. (Id. at 68.) Finally, the 1994 Resolution Agreement provided that "[i]f the Comptroller General does not approve the payment of the compensatory damage claim, the complaint will be reinstated for further processing." (Id.) It appears that the lump sum payment of $2,500 required by the 1994 Resolution Agreement was not made until August of 1995. (Brief of Defendant for Judgment at 5.)*fn5

Before the Agency satisfied its obligations under the 1994 Resolution Agreement, Dr. Friedlander and the FSIS entered into another Resolution Agreement, this one bearing the date of April 21, 1995 (the "1995 Resolution Agreement"). (Joint Record, Exhibit 4, Dkt. Entry 16-1, at 64-65.) Pursuant to this agreement, the FSIS agreed to pay Dr. Friedlander $32,000 "in consideration of back pay . . . ." The FSIS also agreed "to pay proven compensatory damages in support of all formal complaints that exist as of the date of the signing of this agreement." In addition, the FSIS was "to provide a statement to attest to the work conditions that existed prior to Dr. Friedlander's reassignment [from Taylor packing] (8/28/92) in support of his [workers] compensation] claim." (Id. at 65.) For his part, Dr. Friedlander agreed to withdraw EEO Complaint Nos. 950206 and 950313; "release, waive, and withdraw any and all claims" pertaining to his employment with FSIS; resign his employment with FSIS, effective April 29, 1995; and not reapply for employment with it. (Id.) As in the case of the 1994 Resolution Agreement, this contract granted Dr. Friedlander the right to request reinstatement of the underlying complaints by making a request to the Agency's Disputes Resolution Staff within thirty days of an alleged failure to implement the agreement. (Id.)

At the time that the 1995 Resolution Agreement was executed, Dr. Friedlander was represented by Attorney Henry K. W. Woo. By letter dated June 20, 1995, Attorney Woo sent to the Agency's Compensatory Damages Unit Dr. Friedlander's narrative account of damages along with documentation purporting to substantiate his claims. (Join Record, Exhibit 9, Dkt. Entry 16-3, at 7-23.) By letter dated September 15, 1995, Attorney Woo submitted additional documentation pursuant to the 1995 Resolution Agreement. (Id. at 24-47.) In his letter, Atty. Woo stated that Dr. Friedlander sought an award of compensatory damages in the sum of $543,000. (Id. at 24.)

The additional documentation accompanying Atty. Woo's September 15th letter included affidavits of Dr. Friedlander's children, his brother, Richard, and a letter report of a psychiatrist, Dr. Robert T. Latimer. The affidavits of Dr. Friedlander's three children indicated that he had changed dramatically after he was required to leave the Taylor Packing Company. (Id. at 26-28.) Dr. Friedlander's brother addressed the impact of the long hours put in by Dr. Friedlander at the Taylor Packing plant. (Id. at 29) Dr. Latimer, in his June 30, 1995 letter report, stated that Dr. Friedlander had expressed feelings of humiliation with respect to his transfer from Taylor Packing. (Joint Record, Exhibit 11, Dkt. Entry 16-3, at 58.) Dr. Latimer also referenced the very long hours that Dr. Friedlander worked while at Taylor Packing. Dr. Latimer opined that Dr. Friedlander was "suffering a Major and Severe Depression related to his job difficulties." (Id. at 59.)

The Agency commissioned an investigation of Dr. Friedlander's claim for compensatory damages. The contractor retained by the Agency submitted a Report of Investigation on February 27, 1996. (Joint Record, Exhibit 8, Dkt. Entry 16-1, at 85-100, Dkt. Entry 16-2, at 1-100, Dkt. Entry 16-3, at 1-5.) In addition to the documentation submitted by Attorney Woo, the Report of Investigation included affidavits of Plaintiff's former supervisor and former subordinates, invoices and other evidence of expenses for health care services, income tax returns and statements of earnings, warning notices for non-payment of property taxes, bank notices of insufficient funds, and documentation pertaining to Dr. Friedlander's claim for workers' compensation.

In his claim for workers' compensation benefits, Dr. Friedlander set the onset date as August 29, 1992, asserting that he had not been depressed, anxious or unhappy until he began "experiencing problems at work due to overwork, harassment, poor staffing and the general working conditions . . . ." (Id. at 58.) The onset date coincides with his transfer from the Taylor Packing plant. Dr. Friedlander asserted that he first realized his condition was attributable to his employment situation on April 1, 1993. (Id. at 58.)

The documentation included in the February 27, 1996 Report of Investigation included the October 26, 1995 determination of the Department of Labor rejecting Dr. Friedlander's workers' compensation claim. (Id. at 84-90.) In a memorandum accompanying the denial of benefits, the Department of Labor claims examiner found that Dr. Friedlander's "[g]eneral statements and allegations about harassment, working ...


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