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Pantoja v. Brennan

United States District Court, D. Delaware

June 29, 2017

NAISHA PANTOJA, Plaintiff,
v.
MEGAN BRENNAN, Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service, Defendant.

          John M. LaRosa, Esquire of LaRosa & Associates, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Plaintiff. Of counsel: Christine E. Burke, Esquire of Karpf, Karpf & Cerutti, P.C., Bensalem, Pennsylvania.

          David C. Weiss, Esquire, Whitney C. Cloud, Esquire, and Laura Hatcher, Esquire of United States Attorneys Office, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROBINSON, Senior District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Naisha Pantoja ("plaintiff') sued Megan Brennan (the "defendant"), in her capacity as postmaster general of the United States Postal Service (the "Postal Service"), for violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (D.I. 1) Plaintiff alleges that the Postal Service, as her former employer, subjected her to religious discrimination by: (1) failing to provide reasonable accommodation; and (2) terminating her in retaliation for complaints of discrimination.[1] (D.I. 1 at ¶ 28; D.I. 30 at 1) Defendant has moved for summary judgment. (D.I. 26) The court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The parties broadly agree about the events that occurred, and occasionally present conflicting versions of certain details. Nevertheless, defendant has, for purposes of this motion, assumed that plaintiff's version of the facts is true. (D.I. 27 at 2) More important, the court finds that those factual disputes, where they exist, are not material to resolving defendant's motion for summary judgment.

         A. The Duties and Expectations of City Carrier Assistants

         On April 5, 2014, the Postal Service hired plaintiff as a City Carrier Assistant for the Lancaster Ave. station. (D.I. 28-15 at -217) City Carrier Assistants are temporary employees hired on a one-year trial basis to determine whether they merit a career position. (D.I. 28-1 at 2; D.I. 28-2) Lancaster Ave. station is a busy office with 60-70 mail carriers and dozens of mail routes. (D.I. 28-21 at 15:8-15, 13:8-23) The duties of City Carrier Assistants require "arduous exertion, " resulting in some City Carrier Assistants leaving before the end of their term. (D.I. 28-19 at 59:1-23; D.I. 28-2 at -208)

         City Carrier Assistants are treated differently than career employees. (D.I. 28-1 at 8-9) A supervisor may request to remove a City Carrier Assistant from the Postal Service for "just cause" based on the first infraction. (Id.) For smaller infractions, a supervisor may conduct a pre-disciplinary interview and then choose whether to issue discipline such as a letter of warning. (D.I. 28-21 at 15:22-24, 16:10-24) A supervisor does not need higher management approval to issue discipline; however, the supervisor generally seeks approval when requesting suspension or removal. (Id. at 17:2-8) In addition, City Carrier Assistants are not eligible for uniforms until they achieve certain work milestones. (D.I. 28-1 at pp. 4-5) In the interim, they are permitted to wear work-appropriate clothing. (Id.) Plaintiff testified that she generally wore a khimar and garb or sweats to work.[2] (D.I. 28-19 at 51:11-25)

         B. Plaintiffs Disciplinary Issues

         Plaintiff had several disciplinary issues in the summer of 2014. On July 11, 2014, plaintiff did not deliver an assigned route. Per the disciplinary structure for City Carrier Assistants, Supervisor Lewis conducted the pre-disciplinary interview and thereafter issued plaintiff a letter of warning dated July 18, 2014. (D.I. 28-3) A week later, on July 24, 2014, Supervisors Pollard-McGrath and Carpenter issued another letter of warning to plaintiff for failing to scan route markers. (D.I. 28-4)

         On August 8, 2014, Supervisor Carpenter assigned plaintiff a route and gave her "Red Plums" (advertisements) to deliver. (D.I. 28-19 at 124-128) Plaintiff questioned her assignment, because she thought the Red Plums should have been delivered the day before while she was out. (Id.; D.I. 28-16 at -151) This led to a meeting with plaintiff, Supervisor Carpenter, Postmaster Maher, and Manager Toombs. (D.I. 28-19 at 124-128) Plaintiff alleges that during the meeting, Supervisor Carpenter had an attitude, Postmaster Maher grabbed her shoulder, and all three were yelling at her. (Id.) Plaintiff does not allege that any official made any discriminatory comments, questioned her clothing, or questioned her religion during the meeting. After the meeting, plaintiff left the postal station citing health issues and did not return to work for a week. (Id. at 177:20-24; D.I. 28-15 at-217)

         On August 22, 2014, plaintiff went to the Lancaster Ave. station to collect a form for her doctor to sign so she could return to work. (D.I. 28-19 at 179:5-17, 181:13-182:8) Upon her arrival, Supervisor Pollard-McGrath assigned her a route. (Id. at 187:11-188:25) Plaintiff informed Supervisor Pollard-McGrath that she was there only to collect a form for her doctor's appointment that day. (Id. at 183-184) Although there appeared to be some confusion as to whether plaintiff's appointment was canceled, ultimately Supervisor Pollard-McGrath told plaintiff she should go to the doctors and then come back to work, but make sure she changed her clothes before she came back, because she "wasn't properly dressed to deliver the mail." (D.I. 28-14 at -175) Plaintiff said at the time she had "her garb on[;] face showing." (Id.) Plaintiff's appointment with the doctor did not ...


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