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Pierce v. Donahoe

United States District Court, D. Delaware

July 26, 2013

PATRICK DONAHOE, Postmaster General, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Timothy James Wilson, Esquire of The Wilson Firm, Newark, Delaware, Counsel for Plaintiff.

Charles M. Oberly, III, Esquire, United States Attorney, District of Delaware, and Patricia C. Hannigan, Esquire, Assistant United States Attorney, District of Delaware, Counsel for Defendant.

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Sue L. Robinson, District Judge.


On September 20, 2011, plaintiff Carmella Pierce (" plaintiff" ) filed the present action against Patrick Donahoe (" defendant" ), Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service (" the USPS" ), alleging that her employment was terminated based on age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act

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(" ADEA" ) [1] and disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act (" RA" ). [2] (D.I. 1) Plaintiff further alleges harassment on the basis of her age and disability. ( Id. ) Plaintiff's complaint seeks a declaratory judgment that defendant violated her rights, as well as various damages, including lost wages and reasonable attorney fees. ( Id. ) The court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

The parties have concluded discovery, and presently before the court is defendant's motion for summary judgment. (D.I. 24) For the reasons that follow, the court grants defendant's motion for summary judgment.


A. Plaintiff's Employment with Defendant

Plaintiff, born November 21, 1947, is a 65-year-old former employee of the USPS. (D.I. 25 at A-19) The USPS hired plaintiff in 1999 ( id. at A-3), to work at the Processing and Distribution Center in New Castle, Delaware (" the New Castle facility" ). (D.I. 24 at 2) Plaintiff was hired, and remained throughout her tenure at the USPS, as a " casual" employee. (D.I. 25 at A-3) According to the USPS position description, casual employees " performed mail handling, mail processing, mail delivery, mail collection, mail transportation, and custodial functions, or a combination of such duties on a supplemental basis." ( Id. at A-33) The parties agree that at the time of plaintiff's employment, a casual employee was hired for a ninety-day assignment as either a clerk or mail handler, and then required to take seven days off from work before becoming eligible for a new assignment. ( Id. at A-25) However, a new assignment was not guaranteed and casual employees did not receive benefits. ( Id. at A-3, A-27; D.I. 24 at 2) The parties also agree that casual employees did not acquire " seniority" regardless of how long they worked at the USPS. (D.I. 25 at A-8) Thus, all casual employees were treated the same with respect to their status as employees. ( Id. ) While at the USPS, plaintiff worked as both a clerk (casing the mail and running machines) and a mail handler (lifting mail and throwing it into bins). ( Id. at A-3)

Between 1999 and 2000, plaintiff states that she sat for the USPS exam in New Jersey to apply for permanent placement at the USPS. ( Id. at A-10) However, she was never contacted for a permanent position and maintained her status as a casual employee. ( Id. ) She also asserts that she received " Certificates of Appreciation" in October 2004, January 2005, and December 2005 for her job performance. ( Id. at A-9)

Between 1999 and February 2009, due to her changing assignments, the parties agree that plaintiff had several different supervisors including Sherri Wiggins (" Wiggins" ) ( id. at A-19), Donna White (" White" ) ( id. at A-4, A-7), and Angela Garland (" Garland" ) ( id. at A-19). Wiggins, White, and Garland reported to Sharyn Faison (" Faison" ). [3] ( Id. at A-29) Plaintiff also interacted with many coworkers including Chauncey Harris (" Harris" ) and Regina Pinkston (" Pinkston" ). ( Id. at A-7, A-9; D.I. 28 at B-5) Plaintiff recollects mistreatment by supervisors White and Faison and coworker Harris and suggests the poor treatment was due to her weight and hearing loss. (D.I. 25 at A-5,

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A-7) Plaintiff alleges being " screamed at" and treated " like a dog." ( Id. at A-5)

On December 27, 2008, plaintiff began a casual clerk assignment. ( Id. at A-26) On January 26, 2009, a few days before her termination, [4] she underwent an audiometric evaluation documenting mild to profound hearing loss in both ears, though it was worse in her right ear. (D.I. 28 at B-1) The parties agree that plaintiff never requested an accommodation concerning her hearing while employed at the USPS, nor did she receive an audiometric or other medical evaluation during her employment at the USPS prior to January 2009 indicating the extent of her hearing loss. (D.I. 25 at A-10, A-26) The parties disagree as to whether the USPS was aware of plaintiff's hearing disability. (D.I. 30 at 1) Specifically, the parties dispute whether plaintiff notified her supervisors that she could not hear them (D.I. 25 at A-26); whether she specifically informed the postmaster, Leonti, after setting up an appointment with him, that she " had a hearing problem" (D.I. 24 at 4; D.I. 27 at 4-5); and whether she wore a hearing aid at any point while employed by the USPS (D.I. 24 at 5; D.I. 28 at B-5). Defendant asserts that the first notification of plaintiff's hearing disability was not until a " redress" post-termination meeting on April 23, 2009. (D.I. 24 at 5; D.I. 25 at A-20, A-26, A-30)

B. Circumstances of Employment Termination

In 2008, David Robinson (" Robinson" ), manager of the New Castle facility, decided to entirely phase out casual employees to comply with a USPS mandate to cut costs because of reduced mail volume. (D.I. 25 at A-19, A-25, A-26) The parties agree that all individuals in casual clerk positions were terminated by April 10, 2009 and that all casual mail handlers were terminated by September 25, 2009. ( Id. at A-26) The parties also agree that the New Castle facility ended its practice of maintaining casual employees entirely by September 25, 2009 by terminating or not renewing assignments for all remaining casual employees. ( Id. )

Robinson delegated to Faison the decision of who to terminate first. ( Id. at A-25-A-26) Plaintiff was originally included in the first round of terminations effective January 31, 2009 by her immediate supervisors, but Faison allegedly disagreed on the basis of plaintiff's " excellent attendance record." ( Id. at A-30) As a result, plaintiff remained employed in her position for an extra week. ( Id. ) ...

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