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Payne v. Brennan

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 15, 2018

MYRON C. PAYNE Plaintiff,
MEGAN J. BRENNAN, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service, Defendant.


          Paula Xinis United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court in this employment discrimination suit is a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Postmaster General Megan Brennan (ECF No. 28). The issues are fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Loc. R. 105.6. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion will be GRANTED.

         I. Procedural and Factual


         This case was the subject of the Court's prior memorandum opinion granting Brennan's motion to dismiss without prejudice so that Payne could amend his Complaint to cure pleading deficiencies. ECF Nos. 20, 21. Payne subsequently filed an Amended Complaint, incorporating by reference the factual allegations included in his initial Complaint. See ECF No. 25 ¶ 1. Although Payne failed to follow this Court's local rules with respect to filing an Amended Complaint, the Court recognizes that Payne is appearing pro se, and so will consider both the original Complaint and the Amended Complaint in deciding the current motion.

         Payne began his USPS service as a letter carrier in 1987. ECF No. 1 ¶ 14. In May 2005, Plaintiff suffered an on-the-job back injury for which he filed a worker's compensation claim and was placed on limited duty. The limited duty assignment guaranteed Payne eight hours of medically approved modified assignments per workday. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 15-16. In December 2008, Payne's worker's compensation case was closed, ending his limited-duty status. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 18-19. In May 2009, Payne received a letter from one of his supervisors, Postmaster Darryl Jones, instructing Payne to submit a request to be placed on light duty, which Payne “reluctantly and involuntarily” submitted. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 19, 20. After being assigned to light duty, Payne's work hours were reduced and subsequently fluctuated between two and six hours per day without notice or explanation. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 21, 23, 24, 25.

         On October 8, 2009, Plaintiff filed a grievance, challenging USPS's insistence that Plaintiff submit a light duty request and the reduction of his hours. ECF No. 1 ¶ 22. Payne alleged that his work hours continued to fluctuate between November 2009 and January 2010. On January 26, 2010, Plaintiff filed an EEOC complaint alleging discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation. ECF No. 1 ¶ 26. Following discovery, USPS moved for summary judgment, which the EEOC granted on June 6, 2013. More particularly, the EEOC determined that Payne had not established that USPS unlawfully discriminated against him. ECF No. 1 ¶ 27. Payne then moved for reconsideration and appealed the EEOC determination. The motion for reconsideration was denied and the EEOC determination affirmed. ECF No. 1 ¶ 28.

         Payne then filed his initial Complaint in this Court on April 13, 2016, alleging claims of discrimination based on race, color, age, and disability as well as sexual harassment and retaliation. ECF No. 1. The Court granted USPS's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, but granted Payne leave to amend the complaint. ECF Nos. 20, 21.

         On May 5, 2017, Payne amended his Complaint. As to Count I, Payne's disability discrimination claim, Payne added allegations of specific instances of mistreatment, including USPS not modifying Payne's work assignments in writing, denying Payne compensation by reducing his hours, coercing Payne into signing a light duty assigned form, presenting Payne with the ultimatum of working reduced hours in light duty or “go home, ” and creating a hostile work environment by “covertly retaliat[ing] against plaintiff when complaints were initiated.” ECF No. 25 ¶ 4.[1] Payne also alleges that, because of his disability, he was treated less favorably than other employees. ECF No. 25 ¶ 5.

         The amendments to Count II, Payne's Title VII color discrimination claim, are not altogether clear. Payne adds that “all comparators are of fair or tan complexioned [sic] and whose hours were not reduced or were in light-duty status [sic], ” ECF No. 25 ¶ 9, which the Court takes to mean that individuals whose complexions were lighter than Payne's either did not have their hours reduced or were not placed in light-duty status. Payne also alleges that USPS did not make work available to him even though other employees both in and out of light-duty status were being given overtime work. ECF No. 25 ¶ 10.

         Payne adds to Count III, his age discrimination claim, the following facts: that he was 50 years old at the time the contested actions took place; that he was approximately five years older than Jones; and that he was older than all “comparators.” ECF No. 25 ¶ 11. He further alleges that overtime and work assignments were given to “the much younger comparators” despite Payne previously completing the same tasks. ECF No. 25 ¶ 12.

         Count IV, Payne's sexual harassment claim, is now based on his supervisor Genese Rollins telling Payne to use his “big arms” to move boxes, a task outside of Payne's medically restricted abilities. ECF No. 25 ¶ 13, 14. Payne alternatively asserts that this comment “illustrates a certain apathy or disregard . . . [to] Plaintiff's medical condition” even if it is not sexual harassment. ECF No. 25 ¶ 14. It appears that Payne complained internally about this comment, but that no formal investigation occurred. Payne asserts that some time afterward, “a letter of warning for poor attendance against Plaintiff was issued by . . . Rollins.” ECF No. 25 ¶ 14. Payne does not allege to whom he made the complaint about Rollins' comment, the contents of the letter, or how the letter later was used by USPS.

         Regarding Payne's Rehabilitation Act claim, Count V, Payne adds that his supervisor, Annett Ford, suggested that Payne be suspended for 14 days because he had engaged in a verbal altercation with a coworker. Payne asserts that despite the co-worker saying, “light-duty people need to get out of here, ” and then engaging in a verbal altercation with Payne, the coworker was not disciplined. ECF No. 25 ¶ 16. Although Payne ultimately received a letter of warning, not a suspension, ECF No. 25 ¶ 17, Payne asserts that references to his potential suspension in the face of his coworker receiving no discipline demonstrate that he was subject to a hostile work environment due to his disability. ECF No. 25 ¶ 17. Payne also asserts that he had been harassed because his supervisor required that Payne provide proof of his car trouble to substantiate Payne's claimed reason for being absent from work. ECF No. 25 ¶ 18.

         Finally, as to the retaliation claim, Count VI, Payne adds that his change from limited to light duty, not receiving a permanent work assignment in writing that comported with his medical restrictions, and being told to “either work or go home, ” constitutes retaliation. ECF No. 25 ¶ 20. Payne also alleges that even after he prevailed in a nonspecific “grievance, ” management did nothing to address his concerns and spread “subtle comments” about his performance. ECF No. 25 ¶ 21. Payne further asserts, without amplification, that ...

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