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Rubey v. Brennan

United States District Court, D. Alaska

October 9, 2019

JAMES L. RUBEY, Plaintiff,
v.
MEGAN J. BRENNAN, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

          SHARON L. GLEASON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This is an employment action. Plaintiff James Rubey initiated the case in April 2017. The Complaint sets forth two causes of action: a retaliation claim under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-(3)(a), et seq, and a discrimination and failure to accommodate claim under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 791, et seq. In an order dated January 25, 2019, the Court granted summary judgment to the defendant on the discrimination and failure to accommodate claim.[1] A bench trial on the retaliation claim was held in April 2019.[2]

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a) provides that “in an action tried on the facts without a jury . . . the court must find the facts specially and state its conclusions of law separately.” Having considered the testimony of the witnesses, the exhibits admitted into evidence, and the parties' arguments and filings, the Court now makes the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law as set forth below.[3]

         II. FINDINGS OF FACT

         The Court finds the following facts by a preponderance of the evidence:

         1. James Rubey worked for many years as a mail processing clerk for the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) in Anchorage, Alaska.

         2. Mr. Rubey had a light duty assignment at his employment to accommodate his medical restrictions. Mr. Rubey was disabled as a result of two motor vehicle accidents. He had trouble sitting for long periods of time.

         3. A light duty assignment accommodates a federal employee with a disability when the employee is disabled from an injury that was incurred while off the job.

         4. The light duty assignment in effect for Mr. Rubey in May 2015 was dated October 24, 2013. It provided that Mr. Rubey's assignment would consist of “4 hours Working Express Mail Duties” and “4 hours Working Manual operations . . . to include Manual Letters, Flat, box 19.” The 2013 assignment also stated it “in no way constitutes a permanent job offer” and that “[l]ight duty employees are not guaranteed 8 hours of work. In the event of limited volumes of mail, light duty employees will be released in accordance with the contract.”

         5. Mr. Rubey initially refused to sign the 2013 light duty assignment, but ultimately accepted it on October 24, 2013. Previously, Mr. Rubey used to work his entire eight hour shift at express mail, which he preferred to working at the manual flats area. However, his prior light duty assignments had also listed working in the manual flats area.

         6. Mr. Rubey filed a grievance shortly after October 24, 2013. The grievance is not in the record, but appears to relate to the fact that when Mr. Rubey initially refused to sign the light duty assignment prior to October 24, 2013, he had been sent home on several occasions in early October 2013. Michael Newcomer, a manager at USPS, reviewed the grievance and denied it in November 2013. Mr. Rubey did not establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the filing of that grievance in 2013 was protected activity related to his disability.

         7. The Post Office had the right to reassign Mr. Rubey (and other postal employees) to meet its changing needs, so long as the reassignment for Mr. Rubey accommodated his medical restrictions.

         8. The 2013 light duty assignment, including the work at the manual flats, accommodated Mr. Rubey's medical restrictions. In late 2013, Mr. Rubey did not complete the grievance process to challenge whether the new light duty assignment constituted a reasonable accommodation. Instead, he decided to give the new light duty assignment a try to see if he was able to do the assignments that were set out there.

         9. Mr. Rubey made a number of grievances and Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) requests in the years preceding his termination. Mr. Newcomer was aware of many of these actions.

         10. Mr. Rubey did not seek to admit at trial any documentation that constituted a grievance. Nor was any documentation of FMLA requests or responses to such requests admitted into evidence. The Court did admit into evidence email correspondence discussing certain grievances that Mr. Rubey had filed, but not the actual grievances or the FMLA documents ...


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