Court Opinion: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for July 27

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

Goodson v. DeJoy

Melissa Goodson appealed the district court’s order granting Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s motion for summary judgment on her employment claims for failure to accommodate, disparate treatment, retaliation and hostile work environment. 

Goodson began working for the United States Postal Service in 1997. In 2000, she injured her shoulder while on the job and returned to work with temporary medical restrictions — no reaching or lifting above the shoulders — which became permanent in early 2005.

In March 2005, Goodson successfully bid on a permanent position as a mail processing clerk. USPS then informed her she could take the job only if she requested and obtained reasonable accommodations or provided medical certification she could perform the job without restrictions. In response, Goodson sought accommodations from USPS’s District Reasonable Accommodation Committee and also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity division of USPS alleging disability discrimination.

In June 2005, committee coordinator Charmaine Ehrenshaft informed Goodson she was “not a qualified individual within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act” because she didn’t have “a physical or mental impairment that substantially [limited] a major life activity.” Ehrenshaft offered Goodson a “limited duty assignment” that “[adhered] to” her permanent restrictions with the same pay, hours, and days off as the job she bid on. Goodson refused the offer and appealed the committee’s decision to the human resources manager, who denied her request for reconsideration.

In 2007, Goodson settled her Equal Employment Opportunity complaint. As part of the settlement, she accepted a permanent tour III modified clerk position from 1:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., which she performed for the next three years.

On Jan. 12, 2010, USPS removed Goodson from her modified clerk position through its national reassessment process, which determined her duties were no longer necessary. On the same day, USPS offered Goodson a position as a tour III modified mail handler. Goodson responded she was “neither refusing or accepting [the] offer” and asked for “time to think about [it].” Her supervisor told her no other jobs were available that fit her restrictions. According to the opinion, he considered her lack of a response to be a refusal and placed her on leave-without-pay status.

On Jan. 25, 2010, Goodson contacted an Equal Employment Opportunity counselor to initiate a disability discrimination complaint concerning her removal from the tour III modified clerk position. On March 29, 2011, she filed a formal complaint. USPS determined some of her issues had to be appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board.

In October 2011, while the Equal Employment Opportunity and Merit Systems Protection Board proceedings were pending, USPS offered Goodson a tour I mail distribution job which she accepted. Shortly thereafter, she bid for and was awarded a markup clerk-automated position, but she was told she needed to provide medical certification she was able to fully perform all the duties of the bid position or request reasonable accommodations. Goodson again was unable to accept the job because her doctor said she couldn’t perform the job without accommodations and the committee previously had determined she wasn’t a qualified individual with a disability. She remained in the tour I mail distribution job.

In May 2012, Goodson agreed to settle and dismiss her Equal Employment Opportunity and Merit Systems Protection Board matters. According to Goodson as stated in her opposition to summary judgment, during settlement discussions, USPS attorney Brian Odom and Ehrenshaft “convinced” her the tour III modified clerk position she held between 2007 and 2010 no longer existed because the duties were deemed unnecessary. Further, according to the opinion, they allegedly told her the two employees who were performing some of her prior duties held bid positions to perform that work. Goodson explained, “[t]his representation was material…because she knew that, pursuant to the union contract, [USPS] could not replace or ‘bump’ bid employees in order to provide her with a reasonable accommodation.”

Based on these representations, Goodson decided to settle.

On June 29, 2013, Goodson was still working in the tour I mail distribution clerk position when her supervisor met with her to discuss several unscheduled absences. Goodson told the supervisor she had “[sickness]” that could be cured by changing her work hours. Later, in a deposition, she said working the overnight shift made her anxious, moody, irritable, angry, frustrated, tired and depressed. She received a warning letter for failure to be in regular attendance.

In opposing summary judgment, Goodson argued Oct. 28, 2013, she discovered during the settlement negotiations in May 2012 Odom and Ehrenshaft allegedly had concealed and misrepresented the facts regarding her tour III modified clerk position during the May 2012 settlement negotiations. She maintained USPS “falsely informed [her] that the employees performing her prior tour III duties were doing so from bid positions when that was not the case.” USPS denied any misrepresentations and reiterated the two pertinent employees held bid positions.

On Nov. 1, 2013, Goodson contacted an Equal Employment Opportunity counselor regarding her belief two employees lacked bid positions. She alleged discrimination, retaliation and a hostile work environment based, in part, on the June 2013 warning letter about her unscheduled absences.

Later in Nov. 2013, Ehrenshaft, on behalf of USPS, and Lawanda Davis, on behalf of the local union, reviewed unassigned regulars, their physical limitations and the available job vacancies, and then assigned those workers to the vacancies. On Nov. 20, 2013, a senior operations support specialist sent Goodson a letter reassigning her, pending qualification, to a sales and service distribution associate position at the Stockyards Station. According to the opinion, USPS sent nearly identical letters to five other employees. 

Goodson prepared for the test by attending five eight-hour days of classroom training. Three individuals failed the test; two others passed. Because she failed the test, Goodson wasn’t placed in the stockyards job and returned to the tour I mail distribution clerk job with the same salary, benefits and hours.

On Feb. 15, 2014, Goodson filed a formal Equal Employment Opportunity complaint. While it was pending, she asked Ehrenshaft and another USPS employee to reassign her to a job working from 1:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. as a reasonable accommodation. But before they could respond, Goodson bid on and was awarded a tour III position as a markup clerk, working from 1:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. On Feb. 23, 2015, she presented a letter from her doctor stating that she “has medical diagnoses of hypertension and prior Stephens-Johnson’s. I have recommended that she work day or swing shifts for her health. I believe that working evening/night shifts contribute to her hypertension.” USPS placed Goodson in the bid position after Ehrenshaft approved the documentation from her doctor.

In April 2017, an administrative law judge entered summary judgment in favor of USPS on Goodson’s 2014 Equal Employment Opportunity complaint. That decision was affirmed on appeal in June 2018, and Goodson’s motion for reconsideration was also denied. She timely filed suit in February 2019. Goodson appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment.

The 10th Circuit reviewed de novo a grant of summary judgment and applied the same standard as the district court.

According to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, no reasonable jury could find that the Nov. 20, 2013 reassignment letter or USPS’s conduct surrounding the 2011 or 2015 bids was sufficiently severe or pervasive to overcome summary judgment. Summary judgment was proper on Goodson’s hostile work environment claim.

The 10th Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment.

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