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Hixon v. Donahoe

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

May 19, 2015

DARRELL A. HIXON, Plaintiff,
v.
PATRICK R. DONAHOE, POSTMASTER GENERAL, and, JAMES E. TANKSLEY, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

LINDA V. PARKER, District Judge.

Plaintiff filed this pro se lawsuit against Defendants on June 4, 2013, claiming breach of a settlement agreement and age discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Age Discrimination and Employment Act ("ADEA"). Defendants are Patrick R. Donahoe in his capacity as Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service and James E. Tanksley, who served as Plaintiff's supervisor during the relevant period of Plaintiff's employment with the United States Postal Service ("Postal Service"). Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment, filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 on December 1, 2014. Plaintiff filed a response to the motion on December 22, 2014. Finding the facts and legal arguments sufficiently presented in the parties' pleadings, the Court dispensed with oral argument pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(f) on January 13, 2015. For the reasons that follow, the Court is granting Defendants' summary judgment motion.

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 is appropriate "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 central inquiry is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). After adequate time for discovery and upon motion, Rule 56 mandates summary judgment against a party who fails to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case and on which that party bears the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

The movant has the initial burden of showing "the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323. Once the movant meets this burden, the "nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Electric Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). To demonstrate a genuine issue, the nonmoving party must present sufficient evidence upon which a jury could reasonably find for that party; a "scintilla of evidence" is insufficient. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 252.

"A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed" must designate specifically the materials in the record supporting the assertion, "including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). The court must accept as true the non-movant's evidence and draw "all justifiable inferences" in the non-movant's favor. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255.

II. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff began his employment with the Postal Service as a letter carrier. Between 1995 and 2001, he worked as a supervisor and then an acting manager of the Joyfield and Fenkell stations. (Defs.' Mot., Ex. 7 at 9.) In 2002, Plaintiff became an EAS-17 Operation Program Support Specialist ("OSS") at the Postal Service's Detroit District Office. ( Id. at 10.) As the OSS, Plaintiff's "primary function was delivery, confirmation, and signature confirmation scanning." ( Id. at 11.)

The Postal Service evaluates the job performance of EAS employees at the middle and end of the fiscal year. Employees are expected to prepare for the midyear reviews and end of the year performance evaluations by documenting their contributions and describing their accomplishments. (Defs.' Mot., Ex. 8 at 4.) Supervisors are expected to conduct mid-year performance reviews, end of the year discussions, and complete the end of the year performance evaluations. ( Id. at 2.) Employees dissatisfied with their end of the year performance rating may challenge the rating using the Postal Service's "Recourse" process. ( Id. at 8.)

To process performance evaluations, the Postal Service uses an automated web based computer program referred to as the Performance Evaluation System. Employees and supervisors access performance evaluations on the Postal Service computer network by inputting their user name and password. (Defs.' Mot., Ex. 13.) On April 28, 2010, Plaintiff entered his mid-year accomplishments using the system. (Defs.' Mot., Ex. 9.) On the same date, Kenneth Scott, the acting Operation Support Manager, entered comments about Plaintiff's mid-year performance using the same system. ( Id. ) Scott was Plaintiff's acting supervisor and his mid-year evaluator.

On September 30, 2010, which was the end of Fiscal Year 2010, Defendant Tanksley was the acting operations support manager. (Defs.' Mot., Exs. 10, 13.) End of the year evaluations were due on or before December 8, 2010. ( Id., Ex. 11.) Under the performance evaluation system, an employee can receive ratings between 1 and 15. As the acting manager, Tanksley could recommend the following ratings: 1-3 (Non-contributor); 4-9 (Contributor); 10-12 (High Contributor); or 13-15 (Exceptional Contributor). ( Id. Exs. 9, 12.)

Plaintiff was absent from work on leave from the beginning of October through late December 2010. (Defs.' Mot., Ex. 7 at 39-40.) Plaintiff did not enter his accomplishments in the performance evaluation system for the year end evaluation because he was not there. ( Id. at 47.) On November 28, 2010, Tanksley entered information on the system indicating that Plaintiffs' end of the year discussion and comment were not held because Plaintiff was on extended leave between October and December. (Defs.' Mot., Ex. 9 at 3.) Apparently this resulted in the system reflecting that Plaintiff received a "zero" rating.

On December 31, 2011, Plaintiff sent an email to the Detroit District Office indicating that he did not receive a performance evaluation for Fiscal Year 2010 and was unable to make entries in the performance evaluation system. (Defs.' Mot., Ex. 12.) When Plaintiff returned to duty at the end of December 2010, he asked Tanksley about his rating. Tanksley told Plaintiff that he did not rate him because he was not there and that Tanksley would look into it. ( Id., Ex. 7 at 40-41.) The matter was reviewed and, on January 27, 2011, Plaintiff's overall performance rating was change to 7. ( Id., Exs. 9, 10.)

In the interim, believing that the Postal Service had subjected him to unlawful discrimination, Plaintiff had contacted an Agency Equal Employment Office ("EEO") Counselor to initiate the EEO complaint process. ( See Defs.' Mot., Ex. 5 at 1.) It is unclear what the specific subject matter of Plaintiff's complaint was. In any event, on December 29, 2010, Plaintiff and the Postal Service entered into a settlement ...


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