United States District Court, W.D. New York
RANDALL A. HOLMES, Plaintiff,
PATRICK R. DONAHOE, POSTMASTER GENERAL, Defendant.
DECISION AND ORDER
RICHARD J. ARCARA, District Judge.
Shortly after he began working at the Jamestown Post Office, the Plaintiff, Randall A. Holmes, faced an escalating series of disciplinary actions for violating a number of Post Office rules. After the Post Office's first four disciplinary actions against him, the Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that younger, female Postal employees were not being disciplined for the same conduct. The EEOC dismissed the complaint approximately one year later.
In the month following the EEOC's dismissal, the Plaintiff was twice approached by one of his supervisors to discuss updating the Plaintiff's route. On both occasions, the Plaintiff ignored the supervisor's questions and instead called the Jamestown Police Department to report that he was being harassed. Following those incidents, the Plaintiff received two Notices of Removal informing him that his employment with the Post Office was being terminated. However, an arbitrator later found that "discharge was too harsh a penalty" and ordered that the Plaintiff be reinstated.
Seeking back pay and damages, the Plaintiff filed the complaint in this case alleging age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and retaliation for filing his EEOC complaint, also in violation of Title VII. The case was referred to Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder, Jr. pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) for all pretrial matters and to hear and report upon dispositive motions.
The Defendant moved for summary judgment, which Judge Schroeder's Report and Recommendation (R&R) recommends granting in its entirety. The Plaintiff filed objections only as to Judge Schroeder's recommendation that the Plaintiff's retaliation claim be dismissed. Oral argument was held before this Court on May 21, 2014. Upon de novo review of those portions of the R&R to which the Plaintiff objected, and after hearing argument from the parties, the Court adopts the R&R in its entirety. The Court will therefore grant the Defendant's motion for summary judgment.
Neither party takes issue with Judge Schroeder's thorough recitation of the facts, which the Court adopts as its own. The Court therefore discusses the facts of the case only as is necessary to provide context for the legal discussion that follows.
The Plaintiff began his career with the Postal Service in 2005 at the age of 48. Dkt. No. 33 ¶ 2. At the time, the Plaintiff was assigned to the Post Office in Olean, New York but later transferred to the Post Office in Jamestown, New York. Id. ¶ 4. At the Jamestown Post Office, the Plaintiff was supervised by a number of individuals, including, as is relevant to the Plaintiff's objections, Cynthia Bailey, the Officer in Charge of the Jamestown Post Office, and Robert Marsh, Jr., the Maintenance Manager at the Jamestown Post Office. Id. ¶¶ 7, 9. Bailey was transferred to the Jamestown Post Office in 2007 and became the Officer in Charge in 2008. Id. ¶¶ 7-9. She testified that "[w]hen [she] went to the Jamestown [P]ost [O]ffice, there was a lot of red flags going up as far as unauthorized overtime.... There was just a lot of procedures that were not being controlled by the supervisory staff in a proper manner.... They wanted us to get that under control." Dkt. No. 33-7 at 23-24, 67:22-68:8.
The Post Office utilizes a progressive disciplinary system. Under that system, an employee who violates a Post Office rule first receives a letter of warning. Subsequent discipline results in a seven-day suspension, a fourteen-day suspension, and, eventually, removal. Dkt. No. 33 ¶ 11. In slightly over a year-and-a-half, the Plaintiff violated a number of post office rules that quickly moved him up the Post Office's disciplinary ladder. The Plaintiff's disciplinary history at the Jamestown Post Office proceeded as follows:
(1) On August 8, 2007, the Plaintiff received a letter of warning charging him with failing to follow instructions. Id. ¶ 12. The Plaintiff had been instructed that he should not sort bulk mail in a particular way, but nonetheless proceeded to do so. Id. ¶¶ 12-16. The Plaintiff alleged that other carriers had sorted bulk mail in the same manner. Id. ¶ 17. At some point following this incident, the Plaintiff claims that Bailey yelled at him that "she wanted [the Plaintiff] out of this office." Dkt. No. 33-6 at 7, 35:5-8.
(2) On October 23, 2007, the Plaintiff received a seven-day suspension for failing to deliver a piece of Express Mail by its guaranteed time of 3:00 p.m. The Plaintiff delivered the mail at 3:10 p.m., which apparently "resulted in an Express mail failure for the Jamestown Post Office." Dkt. No. 33 ¶ 23.
(3) On January 31, 2008, the Plaintiff received a fourteen-day suspension for "cas[ing] his DPS [i.e., delivery point sequence] mail instead of taking it straight to the street as required." Id. ¶ 26. Bailey testified that the Post Office has "a million-dollar machine preparing [DPS mail] for us so that the carriers do not have to take the time to case it... [I]t's already processed in delivery order and they're expected to take that directly to the street without touching it." Dkt. 33-7 at 8, 32:13-9. The Plaintiff admitted that he was aware that he was not supposed to "case" his DPS mail and had not received permission to do so. Dkt. 33 ¶ 26.
(4) On March 5, 2008, the Plaintiff received a thirty-day suspension after he was seen driving his postal vehicle "without a seatbelt, crossing an intersection with his driver's side door open, making a left hand turn without using a turn signal, and returning from a dismount delivery without his satchel or dog spray." Id. ¶ 32. (As Judge Schroeder notes, it is unclear how the thirty-day suspension fits into the Post Office's disciplinary system.)
On March 24, 2008, just a few weeks after the fourth disciplinary action against him, the Plaintiff filed a complaint with the EEOC claiming that Bailey and another Jamestown Post Office supervisor, James Hirliman, had discriminated against the Plaintiff on the basis of his age and sex. Id. ¶ 40. Slightly less than one year later, on March 11, 2009, the EEOC issued a Decision Without a Hearing. The EEOC's dismissal noted, among other things, that "[b]ased on [the Administrative Law Judge's] review of the record, I find that although Complainant generally avers that employees outside his protected groups [i.e., age and sex] were not disciplined, the objective record shows otherwise." Dkt. 33-3 at 35. The EEOC ALJ further held that "assuming, arguendo, Complainant has shown a prima facie case of discrimination, the [Post Office] has articulated a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for charging Complainant with the cited disciplines. Viewing the facts in a light most favorable to Complainant, the Complainant has not shown that he was treated in a disparate manner when he was disciplined for ignoring instructions and in violating safety guidelines." Id. at 36.
In the weeks that followed the EEOC's dismissal of his administrative complaint, the Plaintiff had two interactions with one of his supervisors, Robert Marsh, that led to the Plaintiff being issued notices of removal. In March 2009, Bailey had assigned Marsh the job of updating the Jamestown Post Office's "managed service points" (MSPs) and Postal Service Form 1546. Dkt. No. 33-10 at 2. This task required Marsh to update the MSPs and Form 1546s for each of the Jamestown Post Office's forty-three city mail routes. Dkt. No. 33 ¶ 59. According to Bailey, Marsh was able to accomplish this assignment uneventfully for forty-two of the Post Office's forty-three routes. Dkt. No. 33-7 at 18, 62:19-63:12. However, Marsh had difficulty updating the MSP scan points and Form 1546 for the Plaintiff's route, which led to the two confrontations in April 2009 that resulted in the Plaintiff's termination.
The April 3, 2009 Incident
On April 3, while he was updating the MSP scan point locations for the Plaintiff's route, Marsh noticed that the Plaintiff was delivering his route out of order and approached the Plaintiff. Dkt. No. 33-10 at 2. After resolving that issue, Marsh asked the Plaintiff to identify the three locations along his route that the Plaintiff would like to use for his lunch break. Id. According to Marsh,
At this point [the Plaintiff] became agitated and hostile. He stated that he did not need to give them to me, and stated that he could take his lunch wherever he choose. I explained that he can choose the locations, but that he needed to provide them to me. I explained that they needed to be placed on his [Form] 1564. He turned away from me, and proceeded to walk away. I called out to him, and ordered him to return to his [postal vehicle]. He ignored my request and crossed [the street] and delivered mail to a home. As he descended the front porch of that home, I spoke to him again. I gave him a direct order to report to his [postal vehicle]. He acknowledged my request and returned.
As he approached me, he pulled out a cell phone from his pocket. He opened it, dialed a number and faced away from me.... He stated [to the person whom he had called] that he was being harassed on the street and needed assistance....
At the conclusion of this call, I attempted to ask my questions again. He stated that he would not provide them, because we will only use the information to discipline him. I advised that it was a requirement of his job to have up three [sic] different break locations on his [Form] 1564. He was still quite agitated and loud. I attempted to convey to him that he needed to conduct himself in a professional manner. There was a customer on the street and Mr. Holmes was quite loud, angry and hostile....
During the next 10 to 15 minutes, I asked for the same information many times. I repeated three to four times that I was issuing him a direct order to provide me with the information. Eventually I was able to obtain the information from him and left.
What should have taken but two or three minutes ended up taking about twenty. His failure to professionally communicate with his supervisor seems to be a problem that I have seen from him since my approval in Jamestown last year.
Id. The Plaintiff later admitted that the phone call he made during the confrontation was to the Jamestown Police Department. Dkt. No. 33-659:9-14. Unsurprisingly, the Plaintiff's notice of removal following this incident stated that "[y]our conduct toward Mr. Marsh, coupled with you recklessly involving the local police department in an attempt to thwart a U.S. Postal Service official from carrying out his ...