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Matthew S. Gillette v. Patrick R. Donahoe

May 14, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge



Presently before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Patrick Donahoe, United States Postmaster General. (Doc. 6.) Because Gillette failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to his retaliation claims, has not alleged facts sufficient to show that he is entitled to relief on his disability discrimination claim, and cannot recover punitive damages in a private suit brought under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Motion to Dismiss will be granted.

I. Background

A. Factual Allegations

The facts as alleged in the Complaint are as follows: Plaintiff Matthew Gillette began working for the United States Postal Service ("USPS") in January 1989. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 8.) On September 21, 2009, USPS issued a Notice of Closure for the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania plant. (Id. at ¶ 10.) At that time, Gillette had reached the position of "EAS-17 Supervisor Maintenance Operations." (Id. at ¶ 14.) Impacted employees from the Wilkes-Barre plant were given a list of vacant positions within the district that only they could pursue during the reduction in force. (Id. at ¶ 11.) They were also eligible for lateral moves within their pay grade or downgrades to positions at lower pay grades upon request. (Id. at ¶ 12.) In addition, they could request consideration for promotions but would have to apply competitively for such positions. (Id. at ¶ 13.)

In October 2009, USPS granted Gillette's request to detail in its customer service sector. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 14.) Gillette's detail as Officer in Charge ("OIC") of the Waymart, Pennsylvania post office ran from November 11, 2009 until March 31, 2010. (Id. at ¶¶ 15--16.) On December 14, 2009, Gillette, having learned that the vacant position of Postmaster of the Waymart post office had been downgraded from EAS-18 to EAS-16, requested a downgrade so that he could be awarded the position. (Id. at ¶¶ 13, 17.) Daniel Reiss, Manager of Post Office Operations, informed Gillette that the position was not being posted at that time and ignored the request for downgrade. (Id. at ¶ 18.) Gilette, having received inconsistent information from USPS employees regarding the Waymart Postmaster position, submitted a request for downgrade and a request for consideration for a promotion for the position on January 8, 2010. (Id. at ¶ 19.) Soon thereafter, Reiss informed him that USPS "'was unable to find the position in the system in order to post it' because there had been a change in the EAS level" and that he would have to wait to apply for it until it was posted at a later date. (Id. at ¶¶ 20, 22.) Although Gillette believed at that time that Reiss was acting in good faith and would honor his requests by awarding him the Waymart Postmaster position when it was posted, Reiss changed his position to discriminate against Gillette by stating that the position was "frozen." (Doc. 1at ¶¶ 21, 23.)

After his detail at the Waymart post office ended in March 2010, Gillette was granted a downgrade to the EAS-11 position of Postmaster at the South Canaan, Pennsylvania post office. (Id. at ¶ 25.) On May 4, 2010, the Waymart Postmaster position was posted. (Id. at ¶ 26.) On May 19, 2010, Gillette received notification that his application for the position had been received, but was informed on June 2, 2010 that USPS had decided to cancel the posting announcement. (Id. at ¶¶ 27--28.) He interpreted the later notice as similar to the previous technical difficulties USPS experienced with posting the position and expected that the position would be re-posted at a later date. (Id. at ¶¶ 28--29.) However, he learned in August 2010 that the Waymart Postmaster position had been filled. (Id. at ¶ 30.)

On September 24, 2010, Gillette realized that USPS would be unable to honor his requests regarding the Waymart Postmaster position in January 2010 and believed that the deception that had been perpetrated against him was solely due to his disability, and not his EAS level. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 31.) Gillette, who has a recognized physical disability, was qualified for the Waymart Postmaster position at all relevant times. (Id. at ¶¶ 32, 34.) The discrimination against Gillette was substantially motivated by a discriminatory animus based on Gillette's disability and Reiss's perception of him as disabled. (Id. at ¶ 36.)

B. Procedural History

On September 14, 2010, Gillette contacted an EEOC counselor. (Doc. 1, Ex. A at 91.) On September 25, 2010, he completed a pre-counseling document in which he described his discrimination allegations as "permanent physical disabilities" and his retaliation allegations as "n/a." (Id. at 91--93.)

Informal efforts to resolve Gillette's concerns were unsuccessful, and he filed a formal EEOC complaint on December 24, 2010 in which he alleged disability discrimination. (Id. at 59--67.) Because he neither checked the box for retaliation nor alleged facts indicating that he was retaliated against, only his discrimination claim was investigated. (Id.) On June 5, 2012, an EEOC administrative judge determined that Gillette "failed to establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination because he failed to rebut the [USPS's] assertion that [Gillette], as a EAS-17 Postmaster does not qualify for a lateral assignment into a EAS-18 Postmaster's position." (Doc. 1, Ex. B at 6.)

On September 17, 2012, Gillette commenced the instant action against Donahoe, claiming retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and disability discrimination under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("RA"), 29 U.S.C. § 794. (Doc. 1.) He seeks declaratory relief, a permanent injunction, damages, and attorney's fees and costs. (Id.) On February 19, 2013, the Court granted Donahoe's unopposed motion to dismiss Gillette's age ...

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