The Postal Service did not subject an employee to disability discrimination when a postal supervisor refused the employees request for accommodation. The employee, a letter carrier, had a medical restriction that he could not use a mail satchel because of a colostomy. The letter carrier’s supervisor refused his request not to use a satchel, while approving the request for accommodation of a co-worker, another letter carrier, after she fell and injured her knee on the job. EEOC ruled that the postal supervisor believed, however erroneously, that he was only required to grant limited duty to postal employees injured on the job .
$175,000 Awarded for Discriminatory Termination
Complainant worked at the Prichard Postal Station in Mobile, Alabama as a Part Time Flexible (PTF) City Carrier. On February 9, 2007, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that USPS discriminated against him on the bases of race (African-American) and sex (male) when he was terminated from employment on October 24, 2006, during his probationary period.
In 2010, EEOC ruled in favor of the letter carrier and ordered USPS to compensate him back pay, consider taking disciplinary action against the responsible management official(s) and to determine his entitlement to compensatory damages.
In 2012, USPS awarded Complainant $30,000 in non-pecuniary compensatory damages, but also found no award of pecuniary damages was appropriate. EEOC found this amount was inadequate.
Complainant’s psychiatrist stated that he suffered severe depression as a result of losing his job, which subsequently contributed to Complainant losing his home and becoming homeless with his children for a period of time. The EEOC noted that while Complainant suffered from depression prior to his termination, Complainant’s psychiatrist and psychologist opined that the discrimination significantly worsened his depressive disorder. Although the Complainant requested $300,000, EEOC concluded that an award of $175,000 in non-pecuniary damages was appropriate in this case.
Class Certification Granted
At the time the complaint arose, one of the class agents (C) was a “light duty” Mail Processing Clerk who had medical restrictions due to a non-work related injury. C alleged that the Postal Service denied her reasonable accommodation forcing her to use leave or work in violation of her restrictions. The other named class agent (W) was a “limited duty” Letter Carrier who had sustained a work-related injury. W alleged that the Postal Service sent her home rather than provide her work within her medical restrictions and ordered her to perform work in violation of those restrictions. Both of the claims were consolidated in another pending class action, and ultimately C and W were designated the class agents. An Administrative Judge ultimately granted class certification, and defined the class to include all limited and light duty employees (excluding permanent rehabilitation employees) in the Los Angeles District [or “Performance Cluster”] whose work hours were limited, including being sent home and told not to return, since June 12, 2007, allegedly in violation of Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
On appeal, the EEOC affirmed the Administrative Judge’s findings. EEOC initially noted that the record contained evidence showing that C had an impairment which substantially limited her ability to perform manual tasks, and that W was substantially limited in the major life activities of walking and standing. The EEOC stated that was a sufficient showing by class agents at the certification stage. With regard to the actual class certification, EEOC found that the class submitted evidence specifically identifying over 100 potential class members, and the record supported the Administrative Judge’s determination that there were sufficient individuals to establish numerosity. Further, the evidence supported an inference that there existed a class of individuals who were harmed by the identified policy of refusing work to disabled employees and sending them home. Thus, the class shared common questions of fact.
The EEOC rejected the Postal Service ‘s arguments concerning the differences in craft and workers’ compensation status of C and W, stating that the issue concerned the underlying question was whether the Postal Service satisfied its obligations under the Rehabilitation Act concerning reasonably accommodating its employees. Thus, the complaint met the elements of commonality and typicality.
The EEOC also rejected the argument that “limited” and “light duty” employees cannot be found members of the same class The question of whether an agency has satisfied its obligations under the Rehabilitation Act concerning reasonable accommodation of a particular employee is a separate inquire from any determination that OWCP may make of that employee. See Cleary v. Department of Veterans Affairs, (December 21, 2006).
The EEOC reject USPS’s assertion that the definition of the instant class is overbroad and will have considerable overlap with the Sandra McConnell class. The EEOC note the record supports the AJ’s assessment that the “evidence was particularly strong in this case,” that an alleged policy of sending employees with impairments home from work, without pay and without reasonable accommodation operated throughout the Los Angeles District.
The AJ noted that on May 19, 2008, USPS’s counsel submitted a copy of a letter to Class Counsel, in revision to an answer previously given on a discovery request for documents reflecting the Los Angeles Performance Cluster’s implementation of the NRP. Therein, the AJ indicated that the Class Counsel had indicated that it “was my understanding at this point in my analysis that the NRP was not the reason that any individuals were sent home in the Los Angeles District. . . ”
Therefore, the EEOC reversed USPS’s final action rejecting the AJ’s certification of the Class and remanded the matter.
This case is around 7 years old so it may be another 3-5 years before it is settled.