Wright v. DeJoy
ORDER Granting 17 Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.. Signed by District Judge Victoria A. Roberts. (LVer)
Case 2:21-cv-10832-VAR-CI ECF No. 21, PageID.478 Filed 09/19/22 Page 1 of 17
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case No. 21-10832
Honorable Victoria A. Roberts
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION
FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF No. 17)
This action stems from alleged discrimination and harassment in the
workplace. Eian Wright (“Wright”), a former employee of the United States
Postal Service (“USPS” or “Postal Service”), filed this action against Louis
DeJoy (“DeJoy”), the Postmaster General of the United States. Wright
brings four claims: (I) disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act;
(II) failure to accommodate under the Rehabilitation Act; (III) hostile work
environment under the Rehabilitation Act; and (IV) race discrimination under
The Court heard oral argument on September 7, 2022.
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The Court GRANTS DeJoy’s motion for summary judgment in its
Wright is a Black male formerly employed as a casual mail handler at
a USPS delivery distribution center in Jackson, Michigan. His job duties
consisted of unloading and sorting mail. As a casual employee, he did not
enjoy collective bargaining protection. He was hired temporarily for a term
not to exceed 360 days.
In March of 2018, a co-worker injured Wright when he pushed a mail
cart into Wright’s back. The resulting neck and back pain kept Wright off
work for several days. Before returning to work, Wright’s doctor provided
work restrictions. The restrictions included no bending/stooping, no
lifting/carrying over 15 pounds, and no pulling/pushing over 25 pounds. The
Postal Service prepared a limited duty assignment for Wright consistent with
his medical restrictions and Wright was placed on light duty.
Wright alleges that his supervisors and co-workers began harassing
him about his disability and restricted duties. Wright says his supervisor,
Mark Stairs (“Stairs”), told him that when people get injuries, they do not last
long and that it would probably be impossible to keep him employed
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because he could not do the work of a mail handler with his restrictions. (Pl.
Compl., PageID.21, ECF No.6 ¶ 15-16). Wright also claims that co-workers
made passing comments about his work restrictions being “BS.” (Wright
Dep. at 76 ¶ 8-25).
Because of his back injury, Wright says his doctor recommended that
he lose weight to relieve pressure on his back. To do so, Wright drank apple
cider vinegar and water. This vinegar and water mixture was not a weight
loss diet prescribed by his doctor but Wright’s natural way to lose weight.
Wright says he told his doctor about his plans to follow the natural diet. The
drink made him go to the restroom every hour. After noticing that Wright
would be missing from his assigned post for long periods, Stairs and another
supervisor, Earl Smith (“Smith”), questioned Wright about his whereabouts
during these long breaks. Stairs and/or Smith sent Wright home three times
because he was missing from his assigned post for extended periods.
Stairs and Smith had approximately five “job discussions” with Wright
about his restroom usage, extended breaks, attendance, and failure to follow
On September 19, 2018, Stairs observed Wright taking notes in a
personal notebook at his workspace. Stairs told Wright he could not have
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his personal things on the floor. Wright says Stairs instructed him to show
him what was in the notebook, but Wright refused because the notebook
contained personal information. Instead, Wright offered to put the notebook
away to comply with Stairs’ orders. Wright says that this offer was not good
enough for Stairs. When Wright refused to share the contents of the
notebook, Stairs told him to turn in his badge and leave the building. Wright
assumed he was fired.
A few days later, Stairs and Wright attended an unrelated EEOC
mediation. After the mediation, Stairs told Wright that he could return to work
on October 1, 2018. Stairs sent Wright two letters confirming this. (Exhibit
18 – 9/28/18 Letter and Exhibit 19 – 10/2/18 Letter). Wright did not report.
On December 14, 2018, after Wright did not report to work for twelve
weeks, Stairs issued a notice of separation removing Wright from his
employment effective December 21, 2018 for failure to adhere to attendance
regulations. (Exhibit 20 – Notice of Separation).
III. Legal Standard
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), “[t]he 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
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law.” The movant bears the initial burden to inform the Court of the basis for
the motion and must identify portions of the record that demonstrate the
absence of a genuine dispute as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant satisfies his burden, the
nonmoving party must set forth specific facts showing a genuine issue of
material fact. Id. at 324. The nonmoving party must also respond with a
sufficient showing that establishes the essential elements of the case.
Fed.R.Civ.P 56(c), 28 U.S.C.A. If the nonmoving party fails to establish the
elements of its case or show a genuine dispute of a material fact, summary
judgment is appropriate.
A genuine issue of material fact exists “if the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Unsupported, conclusory
statements are insufficient to establish a factual dispute to defeat summary
judgment, as is the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the
nonmovant’s position; the evidence must be such that a reasonable jury
could find in its favor. Alexander v. CareSource, 576 F.3d 551, 560 (6th Cir.
2009); Anderson, 477 U.S. 242, 252.
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In deciding a summary judgment motion, the Court “views the factual
evidence and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving
party.” McLean v. 988011 Ontario, Ltd., 224 F.3d 797, 800 (6th Cir. 2000).
The Court only needs to consider the cited materials, but it may consider
other evidence in the record. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(3). The Court’s function
at the summary judgment stage “is not to weigh the evidence and determine
the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for
trial.” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249.
Wright brings three claims under the Rehabilitation Act: (1) disability
discrimination; (2) harassment based on disability; and (3) failure to
accommodate. He brought one race-based discrimination claim under Title
VII and a race harassment claim first raised in his Response Brief, but at the
hearing, he stated his intention to abandon these claims. Accordingly,
Wright’s race claims are DISMISSED.
The Court considers the remaining claims.
A. The Americans with Disability Act and Rehabilitation Act
When DeJoy moved for summary judgment, Wright responded by
defending his disability discrimination claim under the Americans with
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Disability Act (“ADA”) instead of under the Rehabilitation Act (“RA”). Courts
and claimants often analyze ADA and RA claims together, but that does not
mean they are always interchangeable.
Congress passed the RA in 1973. The RA protects disabled
individuals from discrimination and covers any federal entity and any entity
receiving federal funding. Seventeen years later, while keeping the RA
intact, Congress passed the more expansive ADA. The ADA closely follows
the RA framework, but differs in two important ways.
The first difference is the covered entities under the Acts. The ADA
does not cover most federal employers, while the RA does. Thus, an entity
like the USPS is only subject to the RA, while some corporations might be
subject to both.
The next difference is the causation standard. This Circuit held that
the ADA and RA have different causation standards for proving
discrimination. See Lewis v. Humboldt Acquisition Corp., 681 F.3d 312, 315
(6th Cir. 2012). The ADA requires that discrimination occur “because of” a
plaintiff's disability, while the RA requires that discrimination occur “solely by
reason of” a plaintiff's disability. Id. Thus, how plaintiffs prove discrimination
differs based on which Act they rely upon.
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Even though Wright filed his claim under the RA, his decision to defend
the summary judgment motion using the ADA is not fatal to his claim. The
Sixth Circuit recently held that federal employees bringing discrimination
claims against a federal entity may use the ADA causation framework when
asserting a RA claim. Bledsoe v. Tennessee Valley Auth. Bd. of Directors,
42 F.4th 568, 581 (6th Cir. 2022). Effectively, the court in Bledsoe eliminates
the distinction between the ADA and the RA for federal employees like
Wright suing federal employers. For claimants like Wright, the causation
standard under either the RA or ADA is “because of.”
However, the Court need not discuss or apply any causation standard
since Wright fails to establish a key element of his claim.
B. Disability Discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act:
Under the Rehabilitation Act, Wright can establish a prima facie case
of disability discrimination by showing that: (1) he has a disability; (2) he is
otherwise qualified with or without accommodation; (3) he suffered an
adverse employment action; (4) his employer knew or had reason to know
of his disability; and (5) he was replaced by a nondisabled person, or his
position remained open. Jones v. Potter, 488 F.3d 397, 404 (6th Cir. 2007).
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Wright may also satisfy the fifth element by showing that similarly situated
nonprotected employees were treated more favorably. Id.
Wright argues that he establishes a prima facie case for discrimination.
He says he is disabled, his employer knew of his disability, and he is
otherwise qualified for the position. (EFC No.1, PageID.6). He also says that
job discussions with Stairs, being sent home when he did not share his
notebook with Stairs, and having his shifts cut were all adverse employment
actions. (ECF No. 17, PageID.17). Wright points to three employees he
claims are similarly situated but treated more favorably.
Without conceding that Wright is disabled or otherwise qualified for the
position, DeJoy argues that Wright cannot establish a prima facie case for
disability discrimination because Wright failed to show that he was treated
differently than a similarly situated employee. (ECF No. 17, PageID.108).
DeJoy also argues that Wright cannot show that a nondisabled person
replaced him or that his position remained open. DeJoy is correct.
Wright does not allege or present evidence that similarly situated
nonprotected employees were treated differently. In his interrogatories,
Wright identified three employees – Matt (last name unknown), Julie
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Modelin, Adam Woods – as similarly situated employees who were treated
more favorably. (Pl. Interrogatories, Exhibit 2, ECF No.19-3, PageID.457).
“To be deemed ‘similarly-situated’, the individuals with whom the
plaintiff seeks to compare his/her treatment must have dealt with the same
supervisor, have been subject to the same standards and have engaged in
the same conduct without such differentiating or mitigating circumstances
that would distinguish their conduct or the employer's treatment of them for
it.” Mitchell v. Toledo Hosp., 964 F.2d, 577, 583 (6th Cir. 1992). In his
response brief, Wright does not discuss how the three identified individuals
were similarly situated and treated more favorably. That is Wright’s burden,
and he failed to carry it.
Furthermore, the employees identified in interrogatories are career
mail handlers; Wright was a casual employee. (ECF No. 17, PageID.109).
Unlike career employees, casual employees are not guaranteed hours and
are sent home if no work is available. (Stairs Dep. at 11:12-12:4, ECF No.
17, PageID.109). The employment standards differ based on employment
In Talley v. U.S. Postal Service, 720 F.2d 505, 507 (8th Cir. 1983), the
Eight Circuit held that “career employees, through a corrective and
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progressive form of discipline, are given the opportunity to improve their
performance.” Id. at 507. In contrast, casual employees, “because of the
short-term nature of the position, are discharged following the commission
of a serious offense.” Id. For this reason, the Eighth Circuit concluded
casual and career employees are not similarly situated. Id. This Court
abides by that decision.
Nor does Wright show that his position remained open or that he was
replaced following any of the adverse employment actions he alleges. At the
hearing, Wright argued that his position remained open following his
discharge on September 19, 2018, when he refused to share the contents
of his notebook, and Stairs told him to turn in his badge and leave (“the
Assuming that the notebook incident led to Wright’s termination, he
must show that his position remained open or he was replaced by a
nondisabled person following the termination. He fails to do so. He does not
provide a job listing that shows the position was open following the notebook
incident. He does not list any employee who replaced him. Without
evidence, Wright’s bare assertion at the hearing is not enough to withstand
summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. 242, 252.
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The same is true no matter which adverse employment action Wright
relies on; he cannot satisfy the final element of his prima facie case for
The Court GRANTS DeJoy’s motion for summary judgment on Count
C. Failure to Accommodate under the Rehabilitation Act :
Wright alleges he made requests for reasonable accommodations by
requesting: (1) work within his physical and medical restrictions; (2)
allowance to use the restroom more frequently; and (3) “other reasonable
accommodations.” (ECF No. 6, PageID.25). DeJoy says Wright received a
limited duty assignment consistent with his medical restrictions, and Wright
made no further requests for accommodations. (ECF No. 17, PageID.116).
Importantly, Wright failed to address DeJoy’s argument that Wright
made no additional accommodation request. “[A] plaintiff is deemed to have
abandoned a claim when a plaintiff fails to address it in response to a motion
for summary judgment.” Brown v. VHS of Michigan, Inc., 545 F.App’x. 368,
372 (6th Cir. 2013). The Court considers Wright’s failure to accommodate
claim as abandoned.
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Even if the Court considered the claim, Wright cannot show that the
USPS failed to provide a requested accommodation. When asked in
interrogatories to state any requests for accommodations made, Wright said
he submitted medical records to Stairs and Smith, and they told him to follow
the doctor’s instructions. (Wright’s Br. Exhibit 2, ECF No. 19-3, PageID.457
¶ 7). After they received Wright’s medical records, Stairs and Smith put him
on light duty consistent with the medical restrictions. Wright did not make
additional requests for accommodations. Wright affirms that there were no
accommodations he requested and did not receive. (DeJoy Br. Exhibit 1,
ECF No. 17-2, PageID.143 ¶ 11-13).
In an unpublished opinion, the Sixth Circuit held that an employee’s
claim must be dismissed if he fails to identify and request a reasonable
accommodation. Johnson v. Cleveland City School Dist., 443 F.App’x. 974,
983 (2011). Wright’s failure to request a reasonable accommodation is fatal
to his claim.
The Court GRANTS DeJoy’s motion for summary judgment on Count
D. Harassment based on disability under the Rehabilitation
Act: Count III
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Wright alleges harassment based on his disability. He says he was
subject to unwelcome comments about his work restrictions by co-workers
and supervisors. (ECF No. 19, PageID.2). Wright says some of his coworkers called his restrictions “BS.” He also claims Stairs said mail handlers
like Wright do not last long on light duty restrictions. Wright says Stairs and
Smith harassed him because of his frequent bathroom use, and on one
occasion, he was harassed in the bathroom. (Id., PageID.5-6). Wright also
says his work restriction listed on the work schedule as “lduty” is
DeJoy argues that these discussions and actions from Stairs and
Smith are unrelated to Wright’s but stem from his job performance. Dejoy
also says that even if these discussions and the other events Wright points
to were true and related to his disability, they are not severe enough to
establish a disability harassment claim. DeJoy is correct.
To establish a prima facie case for a hostile work environment claim
under the Rehabilitation Act, Wright must establish: (1) he was disabled; (2)
he was subject to unwelcome harassment; (3) the harassment was based
on his disability; (4) the harassment unreasonably interfered with his work
performance; and (5) defendant either knew or should have known about
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the harassment and failed to take corrective measures. Plautz v. Potter, 156
Fed.App’x.812, 818 (6th Cir. 2005).
To constitute a hostile work environment, the workplace must be
“permeated with ‘discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult’ that is
sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s
employment and create an abusive working environment.’” Harris v. Forklift
Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993). The Court must consider the “frequency
of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening
or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably
interferes with an employee’s work performance.” Nat’l R.R. Passenger
Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 116 (2002).
Wright says he was “subjected to disparate treatment, constantly
bothered for going to the restroom, and on one occasion he was harassed
in the bathroom.” (ECF No. 19, PageID.407). In his testimony, Wright
discusses four instances when either Stairs or Smith approached him asking
where he was after noticing his absence from the floor for an extended
period. After telling the supervisors he was in the bathroom, Stairs or Smith
told him to punch out and leave for the day.
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This testimony alone is insufficient to establish that Wright was subject
to harassment because of his disability. These four discussions do not rise
to the level of a workplace permeated with intimidation, ridicule, or insults.
There are no facts “that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive.”
Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 787 (1998).
This conclusion is the same for the other events Wright relies on to
prove harassment. The “passing comments” by co-workers and comment
by Stairs are not severe enough to establish a hostile work environment
claim. Stairs listing “lduty” next to Wright’s name on the work schedule is
also not sufficiently severe under the standard set out in Harris. Especially
considering Stairs removed the notation when Wright asked. (EFC No. 19,
Page.ID 7). Even taken together, these events do not rise to the level of a
workplace permeated with intimidation, ridicule, or insults.
Even if the events Wright discusses were sufficiently severe, there is
no evidence that any of this harassment unreasonably interfered with
Wright’s work performance; Wright merely says it did. Again, Wright’s bare
assertion without evidence is not enough. Anderson, 477 U.S. 242, 252.
Wright presents his disability harassment claim—and others in his
submissions to this Court— “in the most skeletal way, leaving the court
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to...put flesh on its bones.” Citizens Awareness Network, Inc. v. United
States Nuclear Regulatory Comm'n, 59 F.3d 284, 293–94 (1st Cir.1995).
The Court declines to do so.
The Court GRANTS DeJoy’s summary judgment motion on Count III.
The Court GRANTS DeJoy’s motion for summary judgment in its
entirety. (ECF No. 37).
s/ Victoria A. Roberts
Victoria A. Roberts
United States District Judge
Dated: September 19, 2022
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