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Owen v. Brennan

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

August 22, 2019

DENISE OWEN, Plaintiff,
v.
MEGAN J. BRENNAN, POSTMASTER GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [#19]

          DENISE PAGE HOOD DATED UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. BACKGROUND

         On July 15, 2017, Plaintiff Denise Owen (“Owen”) filed a Complaint against the Postmaster General, Megan J. Brennan (“Brennan”), alleging: race and gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”) (Counts I and VI); race discrimination, retaliation, age discrimination, and gender discrimination in violation of Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (“ELCRA”), MCL § 37.2101 et seq. (Counts II, III, V, and VII); and age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) (Count IV). (Doc # 1) There was a Stipulated Order entered on January 17, 2018, in which Owen's race discrimination, retaliation, age discrimination, and gender discrimination claims brought forward under the ELCRA (Counts II, III, V, and VII) were dismissed. (Doc # 7)

         This matter is before the Court on Brennan's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed on November 6, 2018. (Doc # 19) Owen filed a Response to Brennan's Motion on December 13, 2018. (Doc # 21) Brennan filed a Reply on December 26, 2018. (Doc # 24)

         The following facts are undisputed. Owen began working for the United States Postal Service in 1978 and is currently the Postmaster in Clarkston, Michigan. (Doc # 19-2, Pg ID 99) Owen is a white woman who was 57 years old when the events that formed the basis for this case transpired. (Doc # 19-3, Pg ID 162-163) From December 31, 2011 through September 28, 2012, Owen served in two temporary details as Officer-in-Charge of the Sterling Heights, Michigan Post Office. (Doc # 19-4; Doc # 19-5) Owen's initial detail assignment order stated that she would serve in her position from December 31, 2011 through March 30, 2012. (Doc # 19-4) Owen's second detail assignment order stated that she would serve in her detail position from March 31, 2012 through September 28, 2012. (Doc # 19-5) The United States Postal Service's policy allows employees to serve in detail positions for a limited period of time and these temporary assignments “may be terminated at any time, either at management's discretion or at the employee's request.” (Doc # 19-6, Pg ID 184-185)

         The Sterling Heights Post Office is a Level 24 post office. (Doc # 19-3, Pg ID 163) During Owen's temporary details, her pay rate was EAS-21, and she received a 5% premium for detailing to a higher-level office. (Doc # 19-2, Pg ID 106; Doc # 19-7) Owen was supervised by Richard Moreton (“Moreton”), who was a Post Office Operations Manager (“POOM”). (Doc # 19-2, Pg ID 102) Moreton is a white man who was 48 years old when Owen's second detail ended. (Doc # 19-8, Pg ID 188) On about September 29, 2012, Moreton informed Owen that she was being replaced in her detail with another employee, Kim Dontje (“Dontje”). (Id. at 192.) Moreton explained to Owen that he was ending her detail because he wanted to afford Dontje an opportunity. (Id. at 193.) Dontje is a white woman who was 49 years old when Owen's second detail ended and served as a Level 22 Postmaster in Roseville, Michigan. (Id. at 192.) Owen acknowledges that she did not recall Moreton ever making any comments to her about her race or the race of any of the other employees. (Doc # 19-2, Pg ID 131)

         Once Owen's Sterling Heights detail ended, Owen was offered another detail in Roseville, which was a Level 22 post office. (Doc # 19-2, Pg ID 118) Owen would have received the same premium pay for a detail in Roseville that she received in Sterling Heights. (Id. at 120.) The Roseville post office is about 8.8 miles away from the Sterling Heights post office. (Doc # 19-10, Pg ID 213) Owen declined the Roseville detail and chose to return to her position in Clarkston because she felt that the commute from her home in Lapeer, Michigan to Roseville was too far. (Doc # 19-2, Pg ID 102, 118)

         At the time when Moreton replaced Owen with Dontje, Angela Isby (“Isby”) was not removed from her position in a higher-level detail. (Doc # 19-12) Isby is a black woman, and was 42 years old and a Level 20 Postmaster when Owen's Sterling Heights detail ended. (Doc # 19-11) Isby had been serving in her detail position for less than five months when Owen was removed from her detail. (Doc # 19-12)

         Although Owen did not accept the detail position in Roseville, on September 5, 2012, she applied for open Postmaster positions in Troy and Pontiac, Michigan. (Doc # 19-3, Pg ID 168-169) The Troy Postmaster position was posted as an EAS-22 position (Doc # 19-13) and the Pontiac Postmaster position was posted as an EAS-24 position (Doc # 19-14). Owen interviewed for the open positions on September 20, 2012. (Doc # 19-15) Moreton and Rhonda Wright (“Wright”), both POOMs, conducted her interview. (Doc # 19-2, Pg ID 140-141) Owen scored 31 out of a possible 60 points on her interview. (Doc # 19-15, Pg ID 224) By comparison, the interview scores of candidates William Lane (“Lane”) and Ronald Morris (“Morris”) were 40 and 48.5, respectively. (Doc # 19-16, Pg ID 229; Doc # 19-17, Pg ID 235) Lane, who was a 43-year-old male at the time, was selected for the Troy Postmaster position, and Morris, who was a 37-year-old male at the time, was selected for the Pontiac Postmaster position. (Doc # 19, Pg ID 74; Doc # 19- 18; Doc # 19-19) Wright was the selecting official who decided not to offer Owen the Postmaster positions in Troy and Pontiac, and expressed to Owen that she was not selected for either position due to her interview performance. (Doc # 19-2, Pg ID 151; Doc # 19-23, Pg ID 278)

         Owen alleges that she was discriminated against in three instances, including when she was: (1) removed from her detail position in Sterling Heights; (2) not selected for the Postmaster position in Troy; and (3) not selected for the Postmaster position in Pontiac. (Doc # 21, Pg ID 301-303) Specifically, in regard to the first instance, Owen asserts that she was discriminated against on the basis of her race and age in violation Title VII and the ADEA. (Doc # 19-2, Pg ID 131) Owen supports her assertions by claiming that Isby retained her job and was of a different race and was younger than Owen, and argues that Dontje replaced Owen and was younger than Owen. Owen additionally claims that as it pertains to the second and third instances, she was discriminated against on the basis of her sex and age in violation of Title VII and the ADEA. (Id. at 151.) Owen supports these claims by arguing that Lane and Morris received their positions and were both of a different sex than Owen and were younger than Owen.

         Owen seeks lost wages and benefits, past and future, in whatever amount she is found to be entitled. (Doc # 1, Pg ID 9) Owen also requests compensatory, punitive, and exemplary damages as well as interest, costs, and reasonable attorney fees. (Id. at 9-10.) Owen requests that the Court issue an order reinstating her to “the position she would have held if there had been no discrimination and retaliation, ” and an injunction prohibiting “any further acts of retaliation or discrimination.” (Id. at 10.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures provides that the court “shall grant summary judgment 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 presence of factual disputes will preclude granting of summary judgment only if the disputes are genuine and concern material facts. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is “genuine” only if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. Although the court must view admissible evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, where “the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Summary judgment must be entered against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be “no genuine issue as to any material fact, ” since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23. A court must look to the substantive law to identify which facts are material. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         III. ...


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