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Rejniak v. Brennan

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 16, 2019

KELLI D. REJNIAK, Plaintiff,
MEGAN J. BRENNAN, Postmaster General of the United States, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER, Re: ECF No. 51



         Plaintiff Kelli D. Rejniak (“Plaintiff”) has brought this action against Megan J. Brennan, the Postmaster General of the United States (“Defendant”), pursuant to the Age Discrimination and Employment Act (the “ADEA”). Plaintiff's claim arises out of allegations that Defendant retaliated against Plaintiff because she filed a complaint alleging discriminatory conduct by employees of the United States Postal Service (the “USPS”) in 2016.

         Presently before the Court is Defendant's Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion for Summary Judgment”). ECF No. 51. For the reasons that follow, the Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part.[1]


         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff's claims arise out of alleged age-related[2] discrimination and retaliation that Plaintiff suffered while employed by the USPS as a City Letter Carrier. Plaintiff has worked out of the Allison Park Post Office for approximately twenty-four years. ECF No. 40 ¶ 1. During the relevant time period, from approximately the summer of 2016 to summer of 2017, Plaintiff reported to Richard Williams (“Williams”) as her first-line supervisor and to Jamie Rinderle (“Rinderle”) as her second-line supervisor. ECF No. 35 ¶¶ 5, 6. Williams had been assigned to the Allison Park Post Office in November 2015 to a temporary supervisor position. Id. ¶ 4.

         Plaintiff claims that her mail carrier route was “overburdened, ” or in other words, required more deliveries than could be accomplished in the time allotted for her to complete the route. As a result, she claims she was unable to complete her route in the eight hours permitted. Id. ¶¶ 19, 20.

         Plaintiff testified during her deposition that Rinderle and other supervisory staff utilize a system referred to as the “DOIS” (Delivery Operation Information System) in order to estimate the time needed for a letter carrier to complete her assigned route. Id. ¶ 47. Through the DOIS, an individual enters the amount of mail to be distributed in a day, and the program calculates an estimated route duration. Id. ¶ 48. According to Plaintiff, Rinderle and Williams relied on the DOIS to determine whether Plaintiff required additional time to complete her route. Id. ¶ 50.

         When a letter carrier is unable to complete her route in the time allotted, the carrier can request permission to work overtime. ECF No. 35 ¶ 21. A supervisor determines whether to grant the letter carrier's overtime request. Id. ¶ 22. Letter carriers often submit an overtime request via a phone call or text message from the road. Id. ¶ 23. Although the parties dispute whether letter carriers were always required to submit a “3996 Form” to request overtime under these circumstances, they agree that Rinderle generally required letter carriers to submit this form in connection with such requests. Id. ¶ 23; ECF No. 39 ¶ 23.

         During the relevant time period, Plaintiff requested overtime to complete her route “a couple” times per week. ECF No. 35 ¶ 25. Plaintiff regularly took in excess of her approved time to complete the route, which resulted in verbal reprimands. Id. ¶ 27.

         Plaintiff claims that Rinderle regularly “harassed” her about not completing her route within the eight hours allotted. Id. ¶ 26. She further testified that Rinderle and Williams used a “harsh tone” with her, and that Rinderle was “rude” in tone and disrespectful towards Plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 54, 55. Plaintiff testified that she removed herself from the overtime list for the period of April to June 2017 and used paid vacation days to avoid the work environment. ECF No. 40 ¶ 6. She further testified that she saw a therapist to cope with stress and anxiety arising out of Rinderle's supervision. Id.

         1. Route Inspection

         A letter carrier may receive a route inspection, which involves observation and analysis of a letter carrier's route, if she overruns on a route for more than sixty days. ECF No. 35 ¶ 31. This observation period lasts one week. Id. ¶ 33.

         In January or February 2017, Plaintiff was granted a route inspection at her request. Id. ¶ 30. Steven Hrip (“Hrip”), a Site Lead on the Route Exam Team, was scheduled to observe Plaintiff beginning on February 7, 2017. Id. ¶ 32; ECF No. 36-13. On February 7, 2017, Hrip observed Plaintiff completing her route, and she completed it within her allotted 8 hours. ECF No. 35 ¶ 34.

         A route observer did not accompany Plaintiff the next two days, on February 8 and 9, 2017. Id. ¶ 35. Plaintiff did not complete her route in the time allotted on these two days, and took 1.96 and 1.27 additional hours, respectively, over her allotted time.

         Although Hrip's observation was scheduled to resume on February 10, 2017, Hrip cancelled the route inspection. Id. ¶ 37. Hrip stated that he cancelled Plaintiff's route inspection because of concerns over the accuracy of the data collected. Id. ¶ 37. In particular, Hrip pointed to Plaintiff's failure to submit a Form 3996 on February 8 and 9, 2017 requesting overtime or auxiliary assistance, which resulted in management assuming that she would complete her route in 8 hours. Id. ¶ 39. Hrip also noted that Plaintiff failed to record the time in which she counted the mail on a required form, which would result in data inaccuracy. Id. In addition, Hrip “felt the data . . . from the first 3 days of the route was not accurate and could not be utilized to adjust her route” due to the discrepancy between her route times on February 7, 2017, when accompanied by a route observer, as opposed to February 8 and 9, 2017, when she completed her route alone. Id. Hrip indicated that he advised Plaintiff of the reason for cancelling the route inspection, and she “offered no valid reason” for the disparity in her route times between February 7 and 9, 2017, as she acknowledged that the mail volumes were similar. Id. ¶ 40.

         Plaintiff testified that, on one of the days of her scheduled route inspection, winter weather conditions were severe, mailboxes were frozen, schools were cancelled due to weather, and the inspector who was scheduled to ride with her was unable to make it to the post office in order to accompany her. ECF No. 40 ¶ 15. She further testified that Rinderle refused to allow Plaintiff to perform a mail count required as part of the route inspection process, and that she believed Rinderle had influenced the Route Examination Team's decision to terminate her route inspection because Rinderle had spoken with Hrip beforehand. Id. ¶¶ 16, 17; ECF No. 35 ¶ 38.

         Plaintiff testified that another letter carrier, Missy Bailey (“Bailey”), received a route adjustment based on a route inspection and receives additional assistance to complete her route. ECF No. 40 ¶¶ 19, 20. Plaintiff asserts that Bailey's route, which is on the opposite side of the Route 8 corridor from Plaintiff's route, is approximately the same length and has similar traffic conditions to Plaintiff's route. Id. ¶ 21.

         2. Letter of Warning

         On February 27, 2017, Rinderle issued Plaintiff a disciplinary letter of warning (the “Letter of Warning”), which stated in part:

On February 8th, you failed to submit a PS Form 3996 to alert management you needed to work more than eight hours and you expanded your time by one hour and 57 minutes without authorization. On February 9th, you failed to submit a PS Form 3996 to alert management you needed to work more than eight hours and you expanded your time by one hour and 16 minutes without authorization. On February 13th, your PS Form 3996 was approved for 45 minutes. You expanded your time without authorization by 99 minutes.
At your interview you did not provide a reasonable explanation for not fulfilling your reporting requirements.
. . . You must demonstrate adherence to Postal regulations. Future deficiencies will result in more severe disciplinary action being taken against you. Such actions may include suspensions or removal from the Postal Service. If you do not understand the reason for this letter, or if you are having problems that I am not aware, I urge you to see me as soon as possible.
You have the right to appeal the issuance of this disciplinary action under the grievance/arbitration procedure as set forth in Article 15 of the National Agreement within 14 days of your receipt of his notice.

ECF No. 35 ¶¶ 41-43; ECF No. 36-15.

         The Letter of Warning was, itself, the disciplinary action and no additional penalties were imposed. ECF No. 35 ¶ 44. Plaintiff believes that one instance of sick leave disapproval ...

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