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Groff v. Donahoe

United States District Court, D. Kansas

July 14, 2015

PATRICK R. DONAHOE, Postmaster General, U.S. Postal Service, Defendant.


J. THOMAS MARTEN, Chief District Judge.

This matter arises out of an employment relationship between plaintiff Elizabeth G. Groff and defendant United States Postal Service ("USPS"). Plaintiff claims violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") for gender discrimination based on a hostile work environment. Before the court are USPS's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 37) on all claims and plaintiff's competing Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 39).[1] As discussed below, USPS's motion is granted and plaintiff's motion is denied.

I. Legal Standard

"A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense- or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). Summary judgment is proper if "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). The court must view the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. LifeWise Master Funding v. Telebank, 374 F.3d 917, 927 (10th Cir. 2004). "The movant bears the initial burden of making a prima facie demonstration of the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law." Thom v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 353 F.3d 848, 851 (10th Cir. 2003) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). An issue of material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

The party resisting summary judgment may not rely upon mere allegations or denials contained in its pleadings or briefs. Id. at 256. Rather, the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing the presence of a genuine issue of material fact for trial and significant probative evidence supporting the allegation. Id. Summary judgment may be granted if the nonmoving party's evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly probative. Id. at 249-50. Once the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56, the party opposing summary judgment must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). "In the language of the Rule, the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 587 (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e)) (emphasis in Matsushita ).

II. Uncontroverted Facts

A. Background Facts

Plaintiff began working for USPS in 1991. She initially worked in the Kansas City, Kansas, Post Office and transferred to the Shawnee Mission Post Office in September 2004 where she worked as a Laborer Custodian, grade level 4. The Shawnee Mission Post Office operates a number of separate facilities ("the Shawnee Mission cluster"). The main Shawnee Mission post office ("Shawnee Mission Main") was plaintiff's duty station.

Plaintiff worked "on and off" as a backup secretary for Shawnee Mission Postmaster Russ Jacobson until May 2005. She then served two 90-day details[2] at a Mid-District office in Kansas City, Missouri, during 2005 and 2006. Upon plaintiff's return from the second detail in 2006, Jacobson requested that she again serve as a backup secretary for him, but she declined.

Aaron Holder, Maintenance Supervisor at Shawnee Mission Main, was plaintiff's first-line supervisor from August 2007 until at least October 2009. Bennie Ellington, Maintenance Manager at Shawnee Mission, was plaintiff's second-level supervisor from approximately 2005 to 2010. Ellington answered to Jacobson. According to plaintiff, Ellington would "kind of hang out in the break room with the guys and talk about - talk about things with them more." (Dkt. 48-2, at 224). She also thought he felt more comfortable around the men than around her and that he seemed like "one of the guys." Id., at 224-25.

Plaintiff retired from the USPS on January 31, 2013.

B. Discreet Claims of Gender Discrimination

On April 16, 2010, plaintiff contacted an Equal Employment Opportunity Counselor ("EEOC") regarding the following gender discrimination claims. Plaintiff did not pursue an administrative remedy for any of her complaints before her April 2010 complaint.

1. Ellington denied plaintiff's request to serve as backup for the Level 7 Maintenance Operations Support Clerk ("MOS Clerk").

When plaintiff arrived at Shawnee Mission Main, the location employed a Maintenance Operations Support Clerk Level 5 ("MOS Clerk 5") and a MOS Clerk 6. Through contract negotiations, those positions became Level 6 and Level 7, respectively. The MOS Clerk 6 could perform some duties of the MOS Clerk 7 in the latter's absence without serving as the backup to the Level 7 position. At that time, Bruce Orner - a man - was the MOS Clerk 6 and Teena Simmons - a woman - was the MOS Clerk 7.

Ellington assigned backup duties according to the employee promotion register. Dan Kellogg was first on the register for promotion to the Level 6 MOS Clerk and plaintiff was second. Orner was first on the Level 7 MOS Clerk register, while Kellogg was second and plaintiff was third. In late fall of 2008, Ellington assigned plaintiff backup duties for the MOS Clerk 6, but not the MOS Clerk 7.

Maintenance Mechanics ("Mechanics") occasionally performed some of the MOS Clerk 7 duties, such as running certain reports. Such reports were part of the Mechanics' duties that overlapped with the MOS Clerk 7's duties. Mechanics did not receive extra wages for performing such duties and did not serve as the MOS Clerk 7 backup.

The MOS Clerk 7's duties included ordering supplies. A portion of the supply ordering required use of a company credit card ("Impact card"). Simmons was the only Impact card holder for Maintenance at the time.

Plaintiff requested to serve as the MOS Clerk 7 backup. Ellington denied the request, citing the fact that plaintiff did not have authorization to use the Impact card, which was required for the position. Nobody from the MOS Clerk 6 or MOS Clerk 7 promotion register ever served as the MOS Clerk 7 backup to Simmons.

2. Holder assigned plaintiff outside and dock route duties year-round.

Plaintiff began performing the outside route and dock route regularly in 2006. At that time, Mike Fisher was her supervisor and only one person performed those routes. When Holder became her supervisor in 2007, plaintiff continued the outside route and dock route under Holder. She described Holder as a "pretty laid back guy" who didn't want to "rock the boat." (Dkt. 48-2, at 97). Holder eventually changed the Maintenance routes. The moves caused a lot of grumbling among the workers. Holder then returned plaintiff to the outside and dock routes.

Plaintiff's duties on the outside route included removing snow from entrances, sidewalks, and steps - either manually or with a gas-powered plow. Mechanics operated plow trucks to clear parking lots and other areas. When plaintiff told Holder that she needed help with snow removal, he sent either Adela Vazquez or Christine Clayton to help unless a male volunteered.

Certain weekend-shift male custodians did not remove snow if no supervisor was present to assign them to do the work. One of the Mechanics occasionally removed snow on the weekends. The weekday shift - plaintiff's shift - removed snow left by the weekend custodians. Plaintiff thought that the weekend custodians refused to remove snow to avoid work and that they "were not motivated workers by any means." (Dkt. 48-2, at 106). She also thought that Clayton, Vasquez, and Eva Ayalla - women who worked in Maintenance - were more likely to do what they were supposed to do than most of the men. (Dkt. 48-2, at 109).

After plaintiff transferred from Shawnee Mission Main to the Blue Valley location, the outside and dock routes were assigned ...

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