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Lowe v. Donahoe

United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division

April 23, 2014

MEREDITH LOWE, Plaintiff,
v.
PATRICK DONAHOE, POSTMASTER GENERAL, UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, Defendant.

ENTRY ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge

This cause is before the Court on the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment (dkt. no. 49). The motion is fully briefed, and the Court, being duly advised, GRANTS the motion for the following reasons.[1]

I. STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment 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.” In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the admissible evidence presented by the non-moving party must be believed and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the non-movant’s favor. Hemsworth v. Quotesmith.com, Inc., 476 F.3d 487, 490 (7th Cir. 2007); Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009) (“We view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor.”). However, “[a] party who bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations, that there is a genuine issue of material fact that requires trial.” Id. Finally, the non-moving party bears the burden of specifically identifying the relevant evidence of record, and “the court is not required to scour the record in search of evidence to defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Ritchie v. Glidden Co., 242 F.3d 713, 723 (7th Cir. 2001).

II. BACKGROUND

The facts that follow are those taken in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, Meredith Lowe. Additional relevant facts are included in the Discussion section below.

Ms. Lowe began working for the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) in September 1988 as a part-time mail carrier. In 1992, she was promoted to supervisor of customer service. She was transferred to the Oaklandon branch in 1993, and was promoted to manager of that branch in October 1999.

In 2008, Ms. Lowe entered into a settlement agreement with the USPS after she filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) complaint. Pursuant to this settlement, Ms. Lowe received her choice of supervisor positions and was awarded the highest pay rate for that position. Thus, on January 25, 2010, Ms. Lowe began working as a supervisor at the Eastgate Station.

As supervisor, Ms. Lowe performed a number of duties including, among others, ensuring that mail was delivered in a timely manner, supervising clerks, preparing work schedules, and keeping track of the money at the clerk stations. Ms. Lowe’s work hours were from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. As such, she was responsible for closing the Eastgate Station each evening and submitting a Customer Service Close Out Log to the Customer Service Operations Manager (“CSOM”). This Close Out Log reported whether mail carriers worked longer hours than what they had been scheduled, if any accidents were reported, and if any mail delivery failures occurred for that day.

In February 2010, Christina Johnson-Kennedy became the CSOM of the Eastgate Station; as such, she was Ms. Lowe’s supervisor. Ms. Johnson-Kennedy reported problems with Ms. Lowe’s work performance. For instance, Ms. Johnson-Kennedy had to discuss the requirements for the Close Out Log with Ms. Lowe, she felt that Ms. Lowe took much longer than necessary to perform certain tasks, and she noted that Ms. Lowe struggled to arrive to work on time. Accordingly, Ms. Johnson-Kennedy arranged for Ms. Lowe to attend additional training from March through May of 2010.

On March 6, 2010, Ms. Lowe’s children had a school function that she desired to attend. She asked Ms. Johnson-Kennedy if she could leave work early—at 4:30 p.m.—in order to attend the function. Her children were going to be dropped off at the station, and they would leave together to attend the function. Ms. Johnson-Kennedy obliged, noting that she would be at the station that afternoon to cover Ms. Lowe’s absence. At approximately 1:00 p.m. on March 6, 2010, Ms. Johnson-Kennedy requested that Ms. Lowe deliver eight mail pieces. Ms. Lowe told Ms. Johnson-Kennedy that she would also investigate a customer complaint at Whittier Place while she was out. Ms. Lowe did so, and returned to the Eastgate Station at 4:45 p.m., when she left to attend her children’s school function. Ms. Lowe did not clock-out, so Ms. Johnson-Kennedy left a Postal Service form for Ms. Lowe to complete when she returned to the Eastgate Station.

Later that evening, Ms. Johnson-Kennedy called Cathy Vaughn, another CSOM, to give her a report. Ms. Vaughn reported that she saw Ms. Lowe at the Main Post Office, located in downtown Indianapolis, between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m. She observed Ms. Lowe speaking to a man, and saw Ms. Lowe’s children in her car. Ms. Johnson-Kennedy thus began an investigation into Ms. Lowe’s whereabouts on March 6, 2010.

When Ms. Lowe returned to work on March 9, 2010, she initialed the Postal Service form, correcting it to reflect that she left at 4:50 p.m., on March 6, 2010. Ms. Johnson-Kennedy then confronted Ms. Lowe about her whereabouts on March 6, 2010. Ms. Lowe told Ms. Johnson-Kennedy that she had a family emergency and had to go downtown to meet a friend and pick up her children because the friend was unable to make it to the Eastgate Station to drop off her children. She then drove her children to her father’s house. She admitted to Ms. Johnson-Kennedy that it did not take her three hours to deliver the eight mail pieces, she understood that she did not have authorization to go downtown, that she had run a personal errand on work time, and that she actually left the Eastgate Station at 6:05 p.m., on March 6, 2010.

Ms. Johnson-Kennedy submitted a request for disciplinary action on March 17, 2010, for falsification of a Postal Service form and unauthorized transport of children while on work time. A Proposed Letter of Warning in Lieu of the 14-Day Suspension was recommended for Ms. Lowe’s actions on March 6, 2010, and a Proposed Letter of Warning was issued to Ms. Lowe on March 30, 2010. This was despite the fact that in the past, Ms. ...


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