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Lipka v. Potter

March 28, 2006

ROBERT D. LIPKA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN E. POTTER, POSTMASTER GENERAL, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Hugh B. Scott

Decision & Order

Before the Court is the defendant's motion to dismiss and for summary judgment (Docket No. 13).

Background

The plaintiff, Robert D. Lipka ("Lipka"), is employed by the United States Postal Service ("USPS"). He alleges that he was discriminated against because of a disability in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. §§791, 794). Lipka also asserts that he was retaliated against because he filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") in violation of Title VII (42 U.S.C. §2000e et seq.).

According to Lipka, he worked as a Window Distribution Clerk (the plaintiff's "bid position") at the Hiler Post Office in Buffalo, New York. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 6). At some point, Lipka allegedly developed chronic and severe impingement syndrome of the right shoulder and impingement syndrome of the left shoulder and sever chronic depression. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 9).

He claims that since 1995 he was "warned" that if he couldn't do his job, he should quit (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 11). He also asserts that he has been submitting medical documentation of his alleged disability since 1996. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 12). The plaintiff claims that on January 27, 1998, he was informed that he would not longer be on limited duty until he provided "sufficient medical documentation." (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 13). Lipka asserts that this request was made after he had engaged in protected activity by making an informal complaint of discrimination on or about September 26, 1007. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 14). Lipka alleged that he obtained information from his physician and provided it to the USPS. Notwithstanding that information, the USPS informed Lipka that his light duty assignment was terminated due to insufficient medical evidence of the restrictions Lipka claimed. (Docket No. 1 at ¶¶ 15-16). According to Lipka, he requested less strenuous duty, but was informed by his supervisor that if he "could not work" the he "should quit." (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 19). He claims that he requested that he be assigned to do "work in the box section and not pitch mail" but that this requested accommodation was refused. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 21). Lipka also claims that he was denied breaks given to non-disabled employees. He alleges that on March 3, 1998, he was served with a two week suspension (then reduced to one week) after being charged with improper conduct. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 28).*fn1 On that same date, Lipka was transferred to the Williamsville USPS branch which required the plaintiff to drive farther from his home and changing his work hours. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 29).

Based on the above, Lipka asserts that his rights under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 were violated in that the USPS intentionally discriminated against him due to his disability (Docket No. 1 at ¶¶ 32-35) and that the USPS retaliated against him after he filed an EEOC complaint in violation of Title VII*fn2 (Docket No. 1 at ¶¶ 36-40).

The defendants contend that Lipka developed problems with his right shoulder in March of 1996 which limited him from lifting in excess of 15 pounds and from repetitive activity involving his right hand above his shoulder. According to the USPS, although Lipka never made any formal application for light duty work, he was not required to lift packages in excess of 15 pounds and was afforded opportunities, when available, to work at the customer service window and perform clerical duties. (Docket No. 15 at page 2). The USPS maintains that the plaintiff subsequently developed problems with his left shoulder, and that on February 12, 1998, Lipka's treating physician indicated that not only repetitive right, but any bilateral hand above shoulder activity, as well as repetitive "to and fro" motions were restricted. On or about February 27, 1998, the USPS asserts that it was informed that the plaintiff was restricted from performing distribution work, including any sorting of mail. (Id.)

According to the USPS, these restrictions precluded the plaintiff from performing most duties required by his bid position. In response, the USPS provided the plaintiff with what it considered a reasonable accommodation by transferring the plaintiff to the Williamsville Post Office, where work was available which did not exceed his medical restrictions.

The defendant seeks both dismissal and summary judgment under Rule 12(b)(6) and Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The defendant asserts that the plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act because he cannot meet his burden to show that he is "otherwise qualified to perform the duties of a window distribution clerk." Further, the defendant argues that the plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case of retaliation under Title VII. The USPS also maintains that the plaintiff has failed to exhaust his remedies as to any claims relating to alleged discrimination alleged to have occurred more than 45 days prior to plaintiff's March 9, 1998 EEOC complaint.

Standard of Review

In considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court cannot dismiss a complaint unless it appears "beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion is addressed to the face of the pleading. The pleading is deemed to include any document attached to it as an exhibit, Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c), or any document incorporated in it by reference. Goldman v. Belden, 754 F.2d 1059 (2d Cir. 1985). In considering such a motion, the Court must accept as true all of the well pleaded facts alleged in the complaint. Bloor v. Carro, Spanbock, Londin, Rodman & Fass, 754 F.2d 57 (2d Cir. 1985). However, conclusory allegations that merely state the general legal conclusions necessary to prevail on the merits and are unsupported by factual averments will not be accepted as true. New York State Teamsters Council Health and Hosp. Fund v. Centrus Pharmacy Solutions, 235 F.Supp.2d 123 (N.D.N.Y., 2002).

With respect to the defendant's motion for summary judgment, such relief is appropriate only if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Ford v. Reynolds, 316 F.3d 351(2nd Cir. 2003); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment has the burden to demonstrate that no genuine issue of material fact exists. In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, a court must examine the evidence in the light most favorable to, and draw all inferences in favor of, the non-movant. "A dispute regarding a material fact is genuine 'if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.' " Lazard Freres & Co. v. Protective Life Ins. Co., 108 F.3d 1531, 1535 (2d Cir.1997) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248, (1986)). While the moving party must demonstrate the absence of any genuine factual dispute, (Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)), the party against whom summary judgment is sought, however, "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts... . ...


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