A postal carrier for the USPS resigned from his job, but claimed that he quit due to a hostile work environment and retaliation from supervisors. He sued his former employer, alleging a violation of the Rehabilitation Act.
The man began working at the USPS in 1991 and was full-time by 2000, with a route in Puerto Rico. He was first diagnosed in 1992 with schizoaffective disorder, which typically affects moods and can be equated with bipolar disorder. His medication made him drowsy and slowed his pace of work, but it kept his symptoms in check. The carrier alleged that, after he informed supervisors of his condition around 2006 or 2007, he was consequently subjected to harassment and discrimination.
According to the man, the union president made a mockery of his mental health. In response, the carrier filed EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) charges against two supervisors for not preventing the derogatory comments. When the man brought in sorullos – corn sticks – for co-workers, a supervisor remarked that he could work with the man’s family, who were employed at a factory making sorullos. The carrier perceived the comment as a threat of termination. He was also reportedly called “crazy,” and his car was searched, which was legal for USPS managers to do but was, according to the carrier, done excessively.
The man’s slow pace often caused him to return to the post office later than 5:00 pm, when the branch closed. He was told by a supervisor that, if he returned later than 5:30, he should leave his keys, any mail and equipment in a storage room. Shortly thereafter, he was running past closing time, and a supervisor left a voicemail threatening to contact postal inspectors if he didn’t return soon. He responded by filing another EEO complaint. A week later, he received a 14-day suspension for “improper conduct” and delay of mail for a tub of undelivered mail that was attributed to him. One day, when he again returned late to the branch, he saw it was closed. He claimed that he was reminded of the earlier incident and was so upset that he didn’t return to his job and eventually resigned.
His lawsuit alleged discrimination based on his disability, retaliation and constructive discharge – akin to a termination. The district court ruled in the USPS’s favor, believing that the plaintiff could not show that he was “substantially limited” by his condition or that he’d suffered a hostile work environment. He appealed only on his claim of retaliatory discrimination.
Appellate judges noted that many of the allegedly retaliatory incidents could be dismissed because several of the supervisors testified that they were unaware of the EEO filings, claims which the plaintiff did not adequately address. Assuming that other supervisors did know of the EEO complaints, their actions were not considered “severe” enough to sustain a hostile work environment claim. The plaintiff, for instance, cited the incident of the supervisor telling him to leave items in the storage room after 5:30, which seems more of a way to accommodate his medical condition. Judges conceded that the allegedly derogatory comments were “callous” and “distasteful” but were not severe or physically threatening.
Dismissing the retaliation and hostile work environment claims negated the constructive discharge allegation as well. The grant of summary judgment for the USPS was accordingly affirmed.