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Quarrick v. Brennan

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 29, 2019

CHRISTINE QUARRICK, Plaintiff
v.
MEGAN J. BRENNAN, POSTMASTER GENERAL, UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          Kane Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant Megan J. Brennan, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service (“Defendant”)'s motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 45.) For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         Plaintiff Christine J. Quarrick (“Plaintiff”) began her employment with the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) on September 20, 2003, as a Part Time Flexible (“PTF”) City Carrier Technician. (Doc. No. 47 ¶¶ 1-2.) In 2013, Plaintiff bid for and was awarded the position of full-time City Letter Carrier (“T-6 Floater”) in the Post Office located at 115 North Arch Street, Connellsville, Pennsylvania 15425, which she held until her formal retirement on or about November 14, 2018. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4; Doc. No. 53 ¶ 3.) T-6 Floaters “case and deliver” mail along five different routes as a backup to letter carriers who are absent. (Doc. No. 47 ¶ 5.)

         The Job Description for a T-6 Floater describes the “Functional Purpose” of the position as follows: “[a]s principal carrier for a designated group of not less than five letter routes, delivers mail on foot or by vehicle on the routes during the absence of the regularly assigned carrier and provides job instruction to newly assigned carriers.” (Id. ¶ 6.) The Job Description also states that among other “duties and responsibilities, ” a T-6 Floater must be able to “serve[] any route in his group during absence of the regular carrier and perform[] complete and customary duties of a carrier (city or special).” (Id. ¶ 7.) T-6 Floaters may be assigned a combination of: “(a) ‘park and loop,' routes, which require[] the carrier to park at a designated location and walk with his or her satchel to deliver mail on foot, and (b) ‘mounted routes,' which allow[] a carrier to stay in his or her truck and deliver mail curbside. ‘Park and loop' routes require more walking than do ‘mounted routes.'” (Id. ¶ 8.) When Plaintiff initially bid on the T-6 Floater position, she was assigned to the following delivery routes: City Route 8, City Route 9, City Route 11, City Route 12, and City Route 13. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff was assigned to the following routes at the time of her retirement: City Route 4, City Route 9, City Route 10, City Route 11, and City Route 12. (Id. ¶ 10; Doc. No. 53 ¶ 10.)

         City Routes 4 and 12 have both “park and loop” and “mounted sections, ” but are “mostly mounted” routes; City Route 9 is an entirely “park and loop” route; City Route 10 has both “park and loop” and “mounted” sections; and City Route 11 is a “mounted loop” route. (Doc. No. 47 ¶ 11.) Because of the number of routes a T-6 Floater must master, the position is “objectively harder than just doing one route, ” and, therefore, T-6 Floaters are paid a higher salary than a regular letter carrier. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.) Despite the fact that T-6 Floaters have to “be able to do five different routes . . . the other job responsibilities [of a T-6 Floater are] . . . largely the same as a [Carrier Technician] with one route.” (Id. ¶ 14.)

         The Postmaster at the Connellsville Post Office, Frederick Reynolds, III (“Postmaster Reynolds”) described the Carrier Technician position in a sworn affidavit as follows:

Delivers and collects mail on foot or by vehicle under varying road and weather conditions in prescribed area; maintains professional and effective public relations with customers and others, requiring a general familiarity with postal laws, regulations, and products . . . of the area. May be required to carry mail weighing up to 35 pounds in shoulder satchels or other equipment and to load or unload containers of mail weighing up to 70 pounds.

(Id. ¶ 15.) Postmaster Reynolds also identified additional functions of a Carrier Technician, including:

A. Routes or cases all classes of mail in sequence of delivery along an established route. Rearranges and relabels cases as required.
B. Withdraws mail from the distribution case and prepares it in sequence for efficient delivery by him/herself or a substitute along an established route. Prepares [sic] separates all classes of mail to be carried by truck to relay boxes along route for subsequent delivery.
C. Handles undeliverable mail in accordance with established procedures.
D. Delivers mail along a prescribed route, on foot or by vehicle, on a regular schedule, picking up additional mail from relay boxes as needed. Collects mail from street letter boxes and accepts letters from mailing from customers; on certain routes may deliver mail that consists exclusively of parcel post, or the collection of mail.

(Id.)

         In a sworn EEO affidavit, Plaintiff described her work-related duties in the following way:

lifting and carrying up to 70 pounds per day; sitting and standing up to eight hours per day; climbing for up to eight hours per day; kneeling up to eight hours per day; stooping up to eight hours per day; twisting up to eight hours per day; pulling and pushing materials up to eight hours per day; grasping materials up to eight hours per day; manipulation, including keyboarding, operating machinery and reaching above the shoulders up to eight hours per day; and driving a vehicle up to eight hours per day.

(Id. ¶ 16.)

         During her deposition, Plaintiff described her job responsibilities as a T-6 Floater as including:

lifting and carrying up to 70 pounds per day, sitting and standing for up to eight hours per day; climbing for up to eight hours per day; kneeling for up to eight hours per day; stooping for up to eight hours per day; twisting for up to eight hours per day; pulling and pushing materials for up to eight hours per day; grasping materials for up to eight hours per day; and delivering in inclement weather, including in ice and snow.

(Id. ¶ 17.)

         Plaintiff suffered two injuries while on the job sometime in the Spring of 2007, resulting in damage to both of Plaintiff's knees. (Doc. No. 53 ¶ 92.) In October 2007, Plaintiff was diagnosed with a chondral fracture of the right knee, a lateral collateral ligament sprain, and osteoarthritis. (Doc. No. 47 ¶ 18.) Plaintiff also suffered a torn meniscus in her left knee. (Doc. No. 53 ¶¶ 92-93.) Plaintiff's knee injuries have resulted in a number of workplace restrictions since 2007, as described in a number of Duty Status Reports (or “CA-17s”), completed by Plaintiff's physicians and submitted by Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 47 ¶ 19.) Plaintiff's medical restrictions have varied throughout the years. (Doc. No. 53 ¶ 95.)

         Plaintiff's March 3, 2015 Duty Status Report restricted Plaintiff to: lifting ten (10) pounds or less for five hours per day; walking and twisting one half hour a day; and sitting six hours a day. Further, it prohibited Plaintiff from climbing, kneeling, bending, pulling, or pushing. (Doc. No. 47 ¶ 20.) Plaintiff was also not permitted to use steps in icy conditions or to work overtime. (Id.) Plaintiff's June 10, 2016 Duty Status Report limited Plaintiff to: (1) lifting ten (10) pounds continuously and twenty (20) pounds intermittently; (2) sitting six hours per day; (3) walking one half hour a day; (4) bending one half hour a day; (5) pushing/pulling one half hour a day; and (6) climbing two hours a day. (Id. ¶ 21.) A physician's note attached to the June 10, 2016 Duty Status Report also stated “no continuous walking such as house to house.” (Id.) A June 22, 2016 Duty Status Report submitted by Plaintiff permitted her to: (1) lift ten (10) pounds continuously and twenty-eight (28) pounds intermittently; (2) climb stairs up to two hours per day; and (3) walk for two hours per day. (Id. ¶ 22.)

         In a sworn EEO affidavit, Plaintiff described her physical limitations in the following way:

I am restricted to the following activities: lifting and carrying up to twenty-eight (28) pounds continuously up to five (5) hours per day; lifting and carrying up to 28 pounds up to [five] 5 hours per day; sitting continuously for up to six (6) hours per day; standing up to eight hours per day; walking intermittently up to two (2) hours per day; climbing intermittently up to 2 hours per day; bending and/or stooping for [up] to half an hour per day; twisting intermittently for up to eight hours per day; grasping material up to eight hours per day; manipulation, including keyboarding, operating machinery and reaching above the shoulders up to eight hours per day; driving a vehicle up to eight hours per day.

(Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff also stated in the same affidavit that she is “not permitted to push and/or pull equipment on uneven surfaces or inclines, ” nor is she permitted to engage in “continuous walking such as house-to-house” or use “occasional steps for mail delivery”; further, she must “load [her] vehicle from ground level.” (Id. ¶ 24.)

         Plaintiff has stated that because of her medical conditions, her “mobility is limited” and she can neither “walk or run for extended period[s]” of time nor “engage in any activity which requires kneeling, ” and that those medical conditions are “permanent in nature until such time as [her] knees are replaced.” (Id. ¶¶ 25-26.) Plaintiff has described her physical limitations as follows:

Right Knee - Mitochondral fracture, torn meniscus, popliteal cyst, ganglion cyst, arthritis, knee caps not tracking properly, work cartlidge, degeneration
Left Knee - Significant arthritis, torn meniscus, bone on bone, popliteal cyst, degeneration
I walk with a limp, have trouble ascending and descending steps, stooping, and kneeling. Sometimes my left knee locks up when I sit down and it has to “pop” before I can bear weight on it again. I cannot walk far before stopping. At my last examination at the work comp doctor's office, he told me I have lost 10 degrees extension, and 10 degrees flexation. I believe that was in 2015. My knee caps do not track properly, and I frequently stumble.

(Id. ¶ 27.)

         Postmaster Reynolds became Postmaster of the Connellsville Post Office in or around 2012. (Doc. No. 53 ¶ 95.) Plaintiff maintains that, at the time Postmaster Reynolds assumed that position, he was informed of Plaintiff's condition and her need for accommodations. (Id. ¶ 96.) However, Defendant disputes this statement, pointing to Postmaster Reynolds' testimony that he was unaware of accommodations provided to Plaintiff before he became Postmaster. (Doc. No. 60 ¶ 96.) Defendant admits that it accommodated Plaintiff between 2007 and 2012. (Id. ¶ 97.)

         Defendant maintains that “Plaintiff admitted at her deposition that she cannot perform her regular duties as a T-6 Floater.” (Doc. No. 47 ¶ 28.) Plaintiff disputes this statement, maintaining that while she confirmed at her deposition that she “could not perform certain duties assigned to her as a T-6 floater . . . [a]t no time did [she] admit that she could not perform all, or even substantially all, of her job duties.” (Doc. No. 53 ¶ 28.) In a sworn affidavit, Postmaster Reynolds described Plaintiff's ability to perform her job duties as follows:

[Plaintiff] is a T-6 (Floater). She is paid a higher level than the regular carriers due to she is required to work 5 different routes . . . not just 1. This office is made up of park and loop routes with the exceptions of City 4, 11 and 12. City 4 [Plaintiff] must give away 45 min to 1 hour, depending on the mail volume, due to [the fact that it requires] walking and she has restrictions. City 9 she can only case. It is all park and loop. City 10 she can only do the NDCBU's located in Gibson Terrace and that takes between 20-30 min. The rest is park and loop. City 12 she has to give away 2 hours because there is walking. While her restrictions state that she can walk for up to 2 hours, it restricts her from walking “House to House.” City 11 is the only route [Plaintiff] can do with assistance providing there is not a parcel over 28 lbs.

(Doc. No. 47 ¶ 29.)

         While acknowledging that Postmaster Reynolds' testimony is as stated, Plaintiff purports to dispute any assertion that she could not deliver mail on all five (5) of the routes to which she was assigned. (Doc. No. 53 ¶ 29.) However, Plaintiff admitted that, while she was assigned to City Routes 4, 9, 10, 11, and 12, she could deliver only a portion of the required deliveries along City Routes 4, 10, and 12, and that she was physically unable to deliver any mail along City Route 9. (Doc. No. 47 ¶ 30.) Plaintiff further admitted that, with regard to the five routes, while she “keep[s] the mounted parts, the apartments, ” she has asked other carriers to deliver mail along the “park and loop” parts of the routes. (Id. ¶ 31.)

         On or about November 17, 2014, Postmaster Reynolds sent an email to his direct supervisor and Post Office Operations Manager (“POOM”), Curtis Williams (“Mr. Williams”), wherein he identified Plaintiff as an employee who was “physically unable to do [her job], ” and asked “[h]ow are we able to force [her] hand with getting a disability or seeking another job within the postal service?” (Doc. No. 53 ¶¶ 98-99.) Postmaster Reynolds admitted at his deposition that his email to Mr. Williams was an attempt to determine if Plaintiff could be forced to leave the Connellsville Post Office either through retirement or reassignment to another duty station. (Id. ¶ 100.) Postmaster Reynolds sent another email to Mr. Williams on or about January 12, 2015, stating that “Quarrick is next, ” and that he planned to consult with Kim Sample, USPS head nurse (“Ms. Sample”), regarding Plaintiff's medical restrictions and their relationship to Plaintiff's ability to perform her job functions. (Id. ¶ 101.) Thereafter, on or about March 5, 2015, Postmaster Reynolds sent an email to Ms. Sample stating “I am trying to remove [Plaintiff] from her bid and at least make her an unassigned regular. Are you able to help me with this?” (Id. ¶ 102.) At his deposition, Postmaster Reynolds attempted to clarify the motivation behind his emails, stating that he wanted to reassign Plaintiff to another position so that she would be able to work within her medical restrictions and so that all of Plaintiff's routes would be covered. (Id. ¶ 103.) Postmaster Reynolds testified that he did not know “exactly” what work would be available to Plaintiff as an unassigned regular employee. (Doc. No. 60 ¶ 104.) He also testified that he sought the change to using a T-6 Floater who could perform all duties of the position so he did not have to find other carriers to cover some aspects of Plaintiff's routes. (Id.)

         On or about October 27, 2015, Postmaster Reynolds emailed Labor Relations Specialist Dean Petros (“Mr. Petros”), stating that Plaintiff was “unable to perform [her] duties” and asking Mr. Petros to confirm that he can “put her swing up for bid.” (Id. ¶ 105.) At his deposition, Postmaster Reynolds stated that Plaintiff's position had to be put up for bid so that her routes would be covered. (Id. ¶ 106.) At the time, certain sections of Plaintiff's routes were being covered by other carriers. (Id. ¶ 107.) Postmaster Reynolds testified that it was a “pain” to find Plaintiff work within her medical restrictions and that his need to ensure that other carriers were available to cover Plaintiff's routes made his job “harder.” (Id. ¶ 108; Doc. No. 60 ¶ 108.) Plaintiff testified that various other employees told her that Postmaster Reynolds referred to her as “a ...


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