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Mitchell v. United States Postal Service

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

October 4, 2017

KEDRIC MITCHELL, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, and POSTMASTER GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES, Defendants.

          Magistrate Judge Mona K. Majzoub

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [46]

          LAURIE J. MICHELSON, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         After a leave of absence due to his mental health, Plaintiff Kedric Mitchell sought to return to work at the United States Postal Service (“USPS”). He provided his supervisor with a letter from his psychologist which stated that he was able to return to work. But around the same time, Mitchell also sent the USPS a letter written by his wife that raised concerns about Mitchell's mental fitness to return to work. It noted that Mitchell may suffer a mental or physical breakdown should he return.

         As a result, Mitchell was told that he could not return to work until his doctor responded to his wife's letter. The USPS did not receive a direct response and Mitchell was eventually terminated because of his lengthy absence from work. Mitchell then sued claiming that USPS's refusal to allow him to return to work was unlawful discrimination based on his mental illness and retaliation based on a prior Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) complaint.

         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (R. 46.) Defendants say that Mitchell fails to establish a prima facie case because he cannot demonstrate that he is disabled and that the employment action was taken because of his disability. They also argue that, even if he were able to establish a prima facie case, he cannot show that Defendants' nondiscriminatory reason for taking the employment action was pretext. The Court largely agrees. Thus, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         I.

         In 1997, Plaintiff Kedric Mitchell began working for USPS. (R. 48-3, PID 590.) In February 2009, Mitchell filed his first EEO complaint alleging discriminatory treatment because of his depression. (R. 46-16, PID 490-503.) Later in 2009, Mitchell's depression led him to take a leave of absence. (R. 46-14, PID 455.)

         On June 27, 2010, during Mitchell's leave of absence, Mitchell's wife, Roslyn Brown, sent a letter to Vice President of the Great Lakes Area Operations, Jo Ann Feindt (“Brown's letter”). (R. 46-4, PID 398-99). The letter explained Mitchell's mental instability and that they would be going public if the EEOC dispute was not resolved. (Id.) It was returned, marked “return to sender.” (R. 46-2, PID 316.)

         Around July 28, 2010, Mitchell attempted to return to work. He was told, however, that he had to get medical clearance before he was permitted to return. (R. 46-2, PID 301-302.)

         So on August 2, 2010, Mitchell saw his psychologist, Dr. Amy Trabitz. (R. 46-2, PID 305.) That day, Dr. Trabitz wrote a note simply stating that Mitchell was “able to fully return to work with no restrictions.” (R. 46-3, PID 397.) The next day, Mitchell again attempted to return to work. (R. 46-2, PID 306.) Mitchell provided his supervisor, Karl Sturdivant, with Dr. Trabitz's August 2, 2010 note. (R. 46-2, PID 294, 306.)

         But, around that same time, Mitchell re-sent Brown's letter because it was previously marked “return to sender.” (R. 46-2, PID 316.) Given its importance to the case, several sections of Brown's letter are reproduced here:

Whether the Postal service believes it or not, my husband suffers from Stress and Depression. My husband has been off work since September 2009 and is preparing to return to work soon. With the help of his doctors my husband has been making great progress, and that is why his doctors will be clearing him to return to work. But his doctors are not fully aware of the recent developments in his case, and how they may be affecting my husband's condition.
He feels he's ready to go back to work, and I don't think he should return to work at this time. Nonetheless when he sees his doctors next week they will probably clear him to return to work. So he will go just because he trusts his doctors. But his doctors don't live with him, I do.
This is the third time my husband has had to take off work for his illness. Every time my husband has returned to work, he has been harassed and treated unfairly and forced to take off work again. Now he has an EEOC case pending, in order to determine if his allegations are true. My fear is that my husband will suffer some type of Mental or Physical breakdown if he returns to work right now, simply because your managers are not going to change how they do things for my husband's sake. I would appreciate it if you would use your authority to place him on administrative leave until his case is resolved. Because if the past is any kind of indication of what we can expect in the future, then my husband should not be allowed back to work until the truth is known.
Please don't misunderstand me. My husband is not a trouble maker, but he does have a Mental Condition. A Mental Condition for which there is no cure for, which makes him mentally unstable at all times. I hope I don't have to explain to you why you should not allow a mentally unstable individual to continue working in an environment he/she deems hostile. It doesn't matter whether the environment is hostile or not. What matters is that the mentally unstable individual believes it to be hostile. My husband on several levels is in denial about his Mental Condition. Psychotherapy was not his idea, it was mine. I suggested it to him after doing extensive research on job related stress, once I seen he exhibited symptoms.
I am not a doctor. I am just a concerned wife. I would try to convince my husband to abandon his case if I thought his case was invalid. But as it turns out my husband is telling the truth about the unfair treatment and harassment that is going on at the George W. Young facility where he works.
Rest assured that this will be only time I will contact you Mrs. Feindt. So what you do with this letter is completely us to you. I am hoping that you do the right thing.
But if you choose not to do what I have asked of you, then you personally assume responsibility for anything that happens to my ...

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