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McGinnis v. Donahoe

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

February 6, 2015

MICHAEL MCGINNIS, Plaintiff,
v.
PATRICK R. DONAHOE, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JOY FLOWERS CONTI, Chief District Judge.

I. Introduction

This employment discrimination case was brought by Michael McGinnis ("Plaintiff" or "McGinnis") against his employer, Patrick R. Donahoe, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service ("Defendant" or "USPS"). Plaintiff asserts that Defendant discriminated against him based upon his race, color, sex, and age in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. ("ADEA"). Plaintiff also claims that he was subject to a hostile work environment and retaliation in violation of Title VII and the ADEA. (ECF No. 1).

Pending before the court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 22). Upon consideration of the parties' submissions and for the reasons set forth below, the Defendant's motion will be granted.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History[1]

Plaintiff is a 54-year-old African-American male employed by the USPS as a supervisor, customer services, at the East Liberty Station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (ECF No. 31 ¶ 7). Plaintiff has been employed by Defendant since 1986, and has been a supervisor since 1994. (ECF No. 25-6 at 3, McGinnis Dep. at 8). Plaintiff's job responsibilities include supervising mail carriers and having the mail distributed and delivered. (ECF No. 31 ¶ 8). In addition to Plaintiff, there were three other supervisors at the East Liberty Station: Jeanine Adams ("Adams"), an African-American female, whose birthday is July 7, 1965, and was 46-years-old in 2011; Lenore Thomas ("Thomas"), a Caucasian female, whose birthday is January 11, 1967, and was 44-years-old in 2011; and Steve Gestrich ("Gestrich"). (ECF No. 25-6 at 4, McGinnis Dep. at 11), ECF No. 31 ¶¶ 50, 51, 54.) All four supervisors usually reported to Dino Gaetano ("Gaetano"), the manager of the East Liberty Station. (ECF No. 31 ¶ 10).

The events which give rise to Plaintiff's claims occurred in August 2011 when the East Liberty Station was short-staffed due to the vacations of Gaetano and Gestrich. (ECF No. 31 ¶ 16). Adams was the acting manager at the East Liberty Station in Gaetano's absence, and was responsible for supervising Plaintiff, Thomas and Gestrich. (ECF No. 31 ¶¶ 12-13). Adams reported to Russ Graswick ("Graswick"), the acting area manager. (ECF No. 25-6 at 6, McGinnis Dep. at 20). Gestrich, who was also on vacation, was a "closing supervisor, " and responsible for completing and electronically submitting the "PM Checklist, " a document utilized to ensure that all the mail had been delivered and the building was secured. (ECF No. 25-10 at 11). Plaintiff's normal work hours were 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (ECF No. 31 ¶ 15). In Gestrich's absence, however, Plaintiff worked extra hours and was responsible for submitting the PM Checklist. (ECF No. 25-6 at 6, McGinnis Dep. at 19). It is undisputed that Plaintiff did not submit the PM Checklist on August 3, 2011. (ECF No. 25-10 at 12).

On August 4, 2011, Graswick instructed Adams to have Plaintiff send him an email explaining why the PM Checklist had not been submitted. (ECF No. 25-10 at 12-13). When instructed by Adams to do so, Plaintiff explained that he was leaving for a physical therapy appointment and would email Graswick upon his return. (ECF No. 25-6 at 5-6, McGinnis Dep. at 16-17).[2] When Plaintiff was told by Adams to email Graswick before he left, Plaintiff sent Graswick an email simply stating "error" or "error on the PM Checklist." (ECF No. 25-6 at 6, McGinnis Dep. at 18; ECF No. 25-10 at 14). According to Plaintiff, he had not sent the PM Checklist because the computer system was down, and Adams acknowledged that she had received an email that the system had been down. (ECF No. 25-6 at 5-6, McGinnis Dep. at 16-17; ECF No. 25-10 at 14). Upon his return from physical therapy, Adams gave Plaintiff a "pre-disciplinary interview" or "PDI", because, according to Adams, Graswick was of the view that Plaintiff's explanation had been inadequate. (ECF No. 25-10 at 15). Plaintiff was not, however, subjected to any discipline for failing to submit the PM Checklist. (ECF No. 25-6 at 8, McGinnis Dep. at 26).

After the PDI, Plaintiff claimed that his back was sore after working for approximately six hours and he submitted a leave request to Adams. (ECF No. 25-7 at 5). This leave request was on PS Form 3971, entitled "Request for or Notification of Absence." (ECF No. 27-7 at 38). Under the "Type of Absence" requested, Plaintiff checked "Other." (ECF No. 27-7 at 38). The Employee and Labor Relations Manual ("ELM") requires an employee to obtain prior approval from his or her supervisor for all absences. (ECF No. 25-15 at 14, § 519.742) ("[E]xempt employees must obtain prior approval from their supervisors for all absences, whether or not such absences are to be charged to the employee's leave account."). Plaintiff claims that he personally handed Adams the PS Form 3971, and left the building after about fifteen minutes. (ECF No. 25-6 at 8, McGinnis Dep. at 28-30). Adams testified, however, that Plaintiff left the form on her desk and she found it upon returning from another part of the building. (ECF No. 25-10 at 22-23). According to Adams, Plaintiff had already left the building when she found the form. (ECF No. 25-10 at 22-23).

It is undisputed that Plaintiff did not obtain prior approval from Adams before leaving the building. Plaintiff averred that he "left about two hours before the end of his shift, after assuming [PS Form 3971] would be signed...." (ECF No. 28-4 ¶ 25). Graswick instructed Adams to remove Plaintiff's "clock rings" for August 4, 2011, and charge him with being AWOL. (ECF No. 25-9 at 3). Adams disapproved Plaintiff's leave request because he left the building without obtaining prior approval. (ECF No. 25-10 at 22-23; ECF No. 25-7 at 38). Graswick authorized a payroll adjustment and Plaintiff was paid for August 4, 2011, at a later date. (ECF No. 25-11 at 4; ECF No. 25-6 at 10, McGinnis Dep. at 36).

Plaintiff was scheduled to work on August 5, 2011, and August 6, 2011. (ECF No. 31 ¶ 30). Plaintiff testified that he had injured his leg the previous evening playing with his grandchild and had pulled a muscle and could not walk. (ECF No. 25-6 at 12, McGinnis Dep. at 42). On the morning of August 5, 2011, Plaintiff called in sick and spoke with Thomas. (ECF No. 25-6 at 12, McGinnis Dep. at 42; ECF No. 31 ¶ 33). Plaintiff testified that supervisors are instructed to call off to a manager, which, in this case, would have been Adams. (ECF No. 25-6 at 12, McGinnis Dep. at 43; ECF No. 25-9 at 7). Thomas instructed Plaintiff that he needed to call Adams, pursuant to Postal Service regulations. (ECF No. 31 ¶ 34). Plaintiff did not, however, call Adams and inform her that he was calling off sick. (ECF No. 31 ¶ 35). Instead, Plaintiff came to the office at around 10:00 a.m. in order to pick up a picnic cooler for a family reunion he was attending the next day. (ECF No. 25-6 at 12, McGinnis Dep. at 44, 47-48).

Plaintiff and Gaetano both testified that Gaetano had previously granted Plaintiff's request for personal time to attend the picnic. (ECF No. 25-6 at 13, McGinnis Dep. at 48; ECF No. 28-3 at 19). Plaintiff, however, had not filled out a leave slip in advance, and Gaetano acknowledged that Plaintiff should have filled out a leave slip if requested by Adams since it was required by the ELM. (ECF No. 28-3 at 53-55). According to Adams, when Plaintiff came in to the office to pick up the cooler, he informed her that his knee hurt and he was unable to come to work. (ECF No. 25-10 at 29). When informed about this reason by Adams, Graswick stated that he was "floored" Plaintiff came in to pick up a cooler when he was allegedly "sick." (ECF No. 28-2 at 35-36).

Graswick testified that he demanded Plaintiff provide a medical excuse after he had "sashayed" into the office to pick up a cooler. (ECF No. 28-2 at 40). Graswick was of the opinion that if Plaintiff was well enough to come in and pick up a cooler, then he was well enough to work. (ECF No. 28-2 at 45). Plaintiff claims, however, that neither Graswick or Adams asked him for a medical excuse. (ECF No. 25-6 at 15, McGinnis Dep. at 54; ECF No. 28-4 ¶ 39(a)). Because Plaintiff failed to provide medical documentation, and because Plaintiff had represented that he was in too much pain to work yet came in a picked up a cooler, Graswick charged Plaintiff with being AWOL for those two days. (ECF No. 25-11 at 5). Graswick testified that the following Monday he had a conversation with Adams who stated that her husband had seen Plaintiff at the picnic and that he was "probably" playing softball. (ECF No. 28-2 at 56).[3] According to Graswick, at the EEOC mediation, Adams indicated that she was not sure if Plaintiff was playing softball or cooking behind a grill. (ECF No. 28-2 at 60). Graswick indicated, however, that whether Plaintiff was playing softball or cooking was irrelevant to him, since Plaintiff should have been at work. ( Id. ).

Plaintiff's chiropractor completed an absence authorization form on August 5, 2011, stating that Plaintiff should not return to work until August 8, 2011, due to a strained right calf muscle. (ECF No. 25-7 at 39). Plaintiff provided this medical documentation to Defendant in September 2011 at a meeting related to his EEOC case. (ECF No. 25-11 at 5; ECF No. 28-4 ¶ 43). According to Graswick, he informed Plaintiff he would pay him for those two days in light of this documentation, but Plaintiff declined, stating that he wanted to move forward with his EEOC claim. (ECF No. 25-11 at 5).

On August 9, 2011, Plaintiff submitted Forms CA-1 and CA-2 under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act, 5 U.S.C. § 8101 et seq., claiming that he was suffering from mental stress based upon management's refusal to pay him for the hours he worked and sick leave requested. (ECF No. 25-7 at 55, 57). According to Plaintiff, an employee was usually given sick leave for at least three days while awaiting initial agency approval for a worker's compensation claim. (ECF No. 28-4 ¶ 45(a)). Plaintiff was absent from work from August 10, 2011, through August 12, 2011, and requested sick leave until his worker's compensation claim was adjudicated. (ECF No. 25-11 at 6; ECF No. 28-4 ¶ 45(b)). Graswick, however, made the decision to charge Plaintiff with being AWOL. Graswick considered Plaintiff's reasons for feeling stressed "hard to believe" because at that time Plaintiff had not yet received a paycheck reflecting the nonpayment for those days. (ECF No. 25-11 at 6). Plaintiff was not paid for sick leave from August 10, 2011, through August 12, 2011, because Graswick concluded that Plaintiff's reason for his absence was "insufficient" and "not credible." (ECF No. 25-11 at 6). Plaintiff, on the other hand, contends that as a management official, he had access to the timekeeping program and was "acutely aware at all times when he was or was not getting paid." (ECF No. 28-4 ¶ 48).

Plaintiff filed a formal Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaint on October 3, 2011. (ECF No. 31 ¶ 1). Plaintiff alleged discrimination based on his race (African American), color (Black), sex (Male), and age (52), when he was charged for being AWOL on August 4, 2011, when he was charged for being AWOL after calling off sick on August 5 and 6, 2011, and when he was not paid sick leave for August 10, 11, and 12, 2011. (ECF No. 31 ¶ 1). On October 24, 2011, the EEOC accepted Plaintiff's complaint for investigation and limited that investigation to the issues of discrimination raised in the complaint. (ECF No. 31 ¶ 2). Plaintiff did not disagree with the EEOC's accepted issues of investigation, and did not at any time amend his formal complaint. (ECF No. 31 at 3-4). A final agency decision on Plaintiff's complaint was issued on September 28, 2012. (ECF No. 31 ¶ 6).

Based upon the preceding events, Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit on December 27, 2012, alleging that Defendant discriminated against him based upon his race, color, sex, and age in violation of Title VII and the ADEA. (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff also alleged that he was subject to "hostile work environment discrimination and harassment" and retaliation in violation of Title VII and the ADEA. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 6, 10, 19).

Pending before the court is the Defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 22). A supporting brief, concise statement of material facts, appendices, counter statement of material facts, a reply brief and a combined statement of material facts were also filed by the parties. (ECF Nos. 23-29, 31). Accordingly, the matter is ripe for disposition.

III. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides in relevant part:

(a) Motion for Summary Judgment or Partial Summary Judgment. A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a ...

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