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Huwe v. Brennan

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

May 9, 2018

Christine E. Huwe Plaintiff,
Megan J Brennan, Postmaster General, Defendant.


          Paul A. Magnuson United States District Court Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted.


         In 1998, Plaintiff Christine Huwe began working for the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) and Defendant Megan Brennan.[1] (Secord Decl. Ex. A (Docket No. 62-1) (Huwe Dep.) at 14.) In 2012, Huwe became the postmaster at the post office in Bovey, Minnesota. (Id. at 56.) Her direct supervisor was David Krage, a manager of post office operations, who supervised about 60 postmasters and 145 post offices in total. (Id. Ex. I. (Docket No. 62-9) (Krage Dep.) at 10-11.) Huwe took maternity leave on January 6, 2014. (Id. at 82; id. Ex. H (Docket No. 62-8) (Huwe Notes) at 4.) While Huwe was on maternity leave, at least two rural postal carriers complained to Krage that Huwe had verbally disrespected them, humiliated them, and caused issues with their pay. (Id. Ex. R (Docket No. 62-18) at 12, 17-19; id. Ex. S (Docket No. 62-19) at 18-20.)

         On March 11, 2014, Krage met with Huwe to discuss returning to work full time following her maternity leave. Huwe's told Krage that her child would need doctor appointments because of some physical issues. (Huwe Dep. at 98.) Krage also told Huwe about the allegations against her and informed her that he wanted to reassign her to the post office in Deer River, Minnesota, to “give her a chance to be able to make her appointments with her infant” and give him “a chance to investigate allegations that were made against her.” (Krage Dep. 19-20.) The postmaster positions at the Deer River and Bovey offices are identical in compensation, duties, and benefits. (Huwe Dep. at 60, 63-65, 160; Secord Decl. Ex. T (Docket No. 62-20) (Metzer Dep.) at 8-10.) But the Bovey office was “[v]ery short-staffed” because it did not have any additional clerks. (Krage Dep. at 20.)

         On March 12, 2014, Huwe returned to work and transferred to the Deer River office. (Huwe Dep. at 85.) Debra Metzer, who had been the postmaster of the Deer River office, transferred to the Bovey office. (Id. at 104.) However, because there was no formal transfer of the office in charge (“OIC”) duties, Metzer retained some of the managerial duties at the Deer River office. Huwe testified that Krage “wanted Deb Metzer to be placed as OIC in Bovey and [Huwe] as OIC in Deer River, ” but Huwe was unavailable on the dates Krage proposed to transfer OIC duties. (Id. at 104-07.)

         One month after Huwe transferred to the Deer River office, Metzer requested that the staff clerk at the Deer River office move to the Bovey office. (Metzer Dep. at 23-24; Huwe Dep. 130-31.) At about the same time, Huwe first contacted the League of Postmasters, labor relations at the National Association of Postmasters, and Krage's supervisor, regarding her concerns that Krage was discriminating against her. (Huwe Dep. at 148; Huwe Ex. 1 (Docket No. 79-1).) Huwe was told to give Krage more time to resolve her concerns about why she was reassigned.

         Krage reassigned Huwe back to the Bovey office in July 2014. (Huwe Dep. at 177.) On July 17, 2014, three days after she returned to the Bovey office, Huwe went on leave. (Id. at 131.) She claims that she had a mental breakdown after she discovered that the Bovey office was in disarray, and her psychologist diagnosed her with major depression, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder. (Id. at 85-86.)

         While in leave-without-pay status, Huwe met with Krage and others to “rectify the situation.” (Id. at 103.) Brennan also engaged in the reasonable accommodation process, in which Huwe's only requested accommodation was “[t]o not work under Mr. David Krage.” (Id. at 192.) Huwe initiated her first EEO activity on September 8, 2014. (Secord Decl. Ex. C (Docket No. 62-3).) USPS personnel again tried to “resolve differences, ” even attempting to find a different position for her, but nothing was available. (Huwe Dep. at 188; Secord Decl. Ex. B (Docket No. 62-2) at 25.)

         On August 15, 2016, Huwe's employment was terminated for being in a leave-without-pay status for more than one year. (Secord Decl. Exs. P, GG (Docket Nos. 62-16, 62-33).)

         Huwe filed her first lawsuit (Huwe I) while on leave in 2015. Huwe I raises claims of sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., discrimination in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654, and failure to accommodate in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C § 12112 et seq. (Am. Compl. (Docket No. 19), 15-cv-3687.) After her termination, Huwe filed a second lawsuit (Huwe II), claiming failure to accommodate in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and that her termination was discriminatory retaliation in violation Title VII. (Compl. (Docket No. 45), 17-cv-1647.) The Court consolidated these matters, and Brennan now moves for summary judgment on all claims in both cases.


         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is proper if there are no disputed issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court must view the evidence and inferences that “may be reasonably drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Enter. Bank v. Magna Bank of Mo., 92 F.3d 743, 747 (8th Cir. 1996). The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest on mere allegations or denials, but must set forth specific facts in the record showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986).

         A. Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

         Brennan argues that this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the alleged discriminatory acts related to Huwe I's Title VII claims, because Huwe failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. “Federal employees asserting Title VII claims must exhaust their administrative remedies as a precondition to filing a civil action in federal district court.” McAdams v. Reno, 64 F.3d 1137, 1141 (8th Cir. 1995). This includes consulting an EEO counselor “in order to try to informally resolve the matter.” 29 C.F.R. § 1614.105(a). The employee “must initiate contact with a Counselor within 45 days of the date of the matter alleged to be discriminatory.” Id. § 1614.105(a)(1). And “discrete discriminatory acts are not actionable if time barred, even when they are related to acts alleged in timely filed charges.” Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 113 (2002).

         Huwe relies on the continuing violations doctrine to argue that all of the alleged discriminatory acts are exhausted because they relate to claims she presented to an EEO counselor. But the continuing violations doctrine generally applies to hostile work environment claims, not to discrimination and retaliation claims. Betz v. Chertoff, 578 F.3d 929, 937-38 (8th Cir. 2009) (concluding that the continuing violation doctrine did not apply to a retaliation claim); see also Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 536 U.S. at 122 (holding that a claim of hostile work environment would not be time barred under the continuing violations doctrine). The continuing violations doctrine can save an untimely claim that is sufficiently related to a timely presented claim, but it applies only “when the unlawful employment practice manifests itself over time, rather than as a series of discrete acts.” Treanor v. MCI Telecommc'ns Corp., 200 F.3d 570, 573 (8th Cir. 2000) (quotation omitted). The manifestations “must be more than the mere consequences of past discrimination.” Id. And at least one incident of discrimination must occur within the limitations period. Id. Here, Huwe does not allege hostile work environment, and her claims demonstrate the consequences of discrete acts of alleged discrimination. Thus, the continuing violations doctrine does not apply.

         Because Huwe initiated her first EEO activity on September 8, 2014, the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to consider any alleged discriminatory act that occurred before July 25, 2014. See Bailey v. U.S. Postal Serv., 208 F.3d 652, 654-55 (8th Cir. 2000) (affirming judgment for failure to exhaust administrative remedies against a postal employee who did not comply with the 45-day requirement). Huwe I's Title VII claims for sex and retaliatory discrimination relate to alleged discrimination that occurred leading up to, or in connection with, her decision to take a leave of absence on July 17, 2014. Thus, these alleged acts of discrimination are outside the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction, and Huwe I's Title VII claims are dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

         B. ...

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