Mastrella v. Brennan
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry). Signed by Honorable Christopher C. Conner on 11/18/2021. (mw)
Case 1:20-cv-01135-CCC Document 37 Filed 11/18/21 Page 1 of 17
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
ROBERT J. MASTRELLA,
LOUIS DEJOY, POSTMASTER
GENERAL, UNITED STATES
CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:20-CV-1135
Plaintiff Robert J. Mastrella brings three disability discrimination claims
against his former employer, the United States Postal Service, under the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 791 et seq. Defendant Louis DeJoy is
Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service.1 Before the court is
DeJoy’s motion to dismiss Mastrella’s amended complaint under Rules 12(b)(1) and
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. We will grant in part and deny in
part DeJoy’s motion to dismiss.
Factual Background & Procedural History
Mastrella was an employee of the United States Postal Service (“the Postal
Service”) between January 7, 1995, and his retirement on September 27, 2020. (See
Mastrella does not specify whether he is suing DeJoy in his personal or
official capacity. Given the nature of the allegations, we assume DeJoy is being
sued in his official capacity and proceed accordingly. We will refer to both DeJoy
and the United States Postal Service as “the Postal Service” given their linked
Case 1:20-cv-01135-CCC Document 37 Filed 11/18/21 Page 2 of 17
Doc. 22 ¶¶ 11, 28). After the Postal Service hired Mastrella but before the beginning
of the events relevant to this action, the Postal Service promoted Mastrella to
“Manager, Maintenance Operations” (“MMO”) at the Postal Service’s Harrisburg
Processing and Distribution Center.2 (Id. ¶ 11, Ex. C). Ostensibly as the result of his
military service, Mastrella suffers from “disc and nerve loss in both legs,
degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, sciatic inflammation, and pain.” (Id. ¶ 10).
These conditions were first diagnosed in 1989, and they are permanent. (Id.) As set
forth in the amended complaint, Mastrella’s physical impairments constitute a
disability within the ambit of the Rehabilitation Act. (Id.)
Over the last decade, Mastrella and the Postal Service engaged in a series of
disputes over the Postal Service’s handling of Mastrella’s disability. In total,
Mastrella has filed three federal lawsuits against the Postal Service. The first suit
arose out of an Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) Complaint of
Discrimination in the Postal Service filed by Mastrella on March 29, 2013, against
his supervisor, (see id. ¶ 13); thereafter, Mastrella filed a federal lawsuit in this
judicial district, see Mastrella v. Donahoe, No. 1:14-CV-793, Doc. 1 (M.D. Pa. 2016).
The parties amicably resolved the matter, and the court issued an order of dismissal
on June 20, 2016. Id., Doc. 50 (M.D. Pa. June 20, 2016). On June 28, 2018, Mastrella
filed another EEO complaint claiming the Postal Service was discriminating against
him by failing to raise his pay in compliance with its pay policies. (See Doc. 22 ¶ 14).
Although this term does not appear in the record, we understand the
abbreviation “P&DC” as used in Mastrella’s pleading to stand for “Processing and
Case 1:20-cv-01135-CCC Document 37 Filed 11/18/21 Page 3 of 17
After failing to resolve the dispute at the administrative level, Mastrella filed his
second lawsuit against the Postal Service on June 19, 2020. The undersigned
partially dismissed this second lawsuit with leave to amend by memorandum and
order of today’s date. See Mastrella v. DeJoy, No. 1:20-CV-1037, Docs. 33-34 (M.D.
Pa. Nov. 18, 2021).
The present lawsuit—Mastrella’s third against the Postal Service—originates
from events that took place in late 2018 and early 2019. Mastrella alleges that in
mid-December 2018, his supervisor, Marlon Williams, instructed him to work
beyond his medical restrictions and ignored his subsequent request for an
accommodation based on those restrictions. (See Doc. 22 ¶¶ 16-17). Mastrella
sought the counsel of his treating physician, and on December 27, 2018, Mastrella
provided the Postal Service with correspondence from his physician delineating his
medical restrictions. (See id., Ex. B; Doc. 28 at 15, 17).3 Among those restrictions is
one limiting Mastrella to a maximum of six hours of work per day with no overtime.
(See Doc. 22, Ex. B).
Mastrella filed a copy of his EEOC complaint with his brief in opposition to
the motion to dismiss. (See Doc. 28 at 11-19). Courts are usually limited to
considering the complaint’s allegations, “exhibits attached to the complaint, matters
of public record, [and] undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant’s
claims are based upon these documents.” Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d
Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d
1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). The court can, however, consider “document[s] integral
to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint.” Schmidt v. Skolas, 770 F.3d 241, 249
(3d Cir. 2014) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426
(3d Cir. 1997)). The EEOC complaint is integral to Mastrella’s complaint and
explicitly referenced therein. Its authenticity is not disputed. We will therefore
Case 1:20-cv-01135-CCC Document 37 Filed 11/18/21 Page 4 of 17
Based on the new restrictions, Mastrella requested a reduction in his daily
work schedule to six hours per day. (See id. ¶¶ 23, 52, Exs. C, D; Doc. 28 at 17).
Mastrella alleges that Darrin Dunlap, a Maintenance Engineering Specialist, told
Mastrella by phone that the Postal Service would not approve putting Mastrella on
“light duty” (i.e., a reduced work schedule) and ordered him not to come to work
until the District Reasonable Accommodation Committee (“DRAC”) resolved his
accommodation request. (See Doc. 22 ¶¶ 54-55, Ex. C; Doc. 28 at 17). Mastrella
protested this decision and asked Dunlap to speak with Human Resources. (See
Doc. 28 at 17). Roughly twenty minutes later, Dunlap called Mastrella after
speaking with Shawn White, the Human Resources Manager. (See id.) During this
second call, Dunlap relayed that White decided Mastrella could continue coming to
work while the DRAC considered his request, but that Mastrella would need to use
FMLA leave to bring his work hours under the six-hour limitation. (See id.; Doc. 22,
Ex. C). Mastrella did not want to take FMLA leave and requested to take two hours
of “personal absence time” per day instead.4 (See Doc. 22 ¶ 23; Doc. 28 at 17).
Under Postal Service policy, personal absence time, when taken by a salaried
As previously noted, a court deciding a Rule 12(b) motion may consider
“document[s] integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint.” Schmidt, 770
F.3d at 249 (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d at 1426). In
his amended complaint and EEOC complaint, Mastrella refers several times to the
Employee and Labor Relations Manual (“ELM”), the handbook that governs leave
and other administrative matters within the Postal Service. (See Doc. 22 ¶¶ 60-61;
Doc. 28 at 17-18). To better understand the context of his claim, we consulted the
45th edition of the ELM, which was in effect from September 2018 to March 2019,
the period during which the Postal Service allegedly discriminated against
Mastrella. See U.S. POSTAL SERV., EMPLOYEE AND LABOR RELATIONS MANUAL,
(Sept. 2018), https://about.usps.com/manuals/elm/elm45.zip.
Case 1:20-cv-01135-CCC Document 37 Filed 11/18/21 Page 5 of 17
employee like an MMO, does not count against the employee’s accumulated leave5
nor require a corresponding deduction from their salary. (See Doc. 22 ¶¶ 60-61, Ex.
B); see also ELM § 519.1. FMLA leave can be counted in different ways under the
Postal Service’s leave system, see ELM § 515.41, but, in contrast to personal
absence time, all of those ways involve counting the hours missed against the
employee’s accumulated leave or the employee accepting a deduction in their
salary.6 See ELM §§ 510-15, 519; (see also Doc. 22 ¶¶ 61, 67, Ex. B).
The ELM gives discretion to grant or deny requests for personal absence
time to the employee’s immediate supervisor. (See Doc. 22 ¶ 63); ELM § 519.742. At
the time of the relevant events, Williams was Mastrella’s supervisor. (See Doc. 22
¶ 64). According to the amended complaint, White—not Williams—denied
Mastrella’s request to take two hours of personal absence time per day. (See id.
Postal Service employees accrue a certain number of hours of “annual
leave” and “sick leave” every pay period. See ELM §§ 512.311, 513.221. These
hours are credited to a leave account held by the employee. See id. §§ 513.3,
513.221. Unused leave carries over from one year to the next, albeit with some
restrictions. See id. §§ 513.221, 512.321. Accumulated sick leave can be used to
retire early. See id. § 513.821. Accumulated annual leave can be, under certain
circumstances, exchanged for cash. See id. §§ 512.633; 512.732. We use the term
“accumulated leave” to refer to both the annual leave and sick leave Mastrella
amassed in his leave account over his career with the Postal Service. For the sake
of clarity, we note that the ELM uses “accumulated leave” in a more restrictive way,
i.e., to describe only the unused annual leave (not sick leave) credited to an
employee’s leave account at the end of each year. See id. § 512.12. ELM’s more
limited reference to accumulated leave bears no relation to the claims at issue.
It is not clear whether the Postal Service charged Mastrella’s leave to his
accumulated leave, forced him to take leave without pay, or alternated between the
two. White’s email dated December 28, 2018, implies that the Postal Service did not
pay Mastrella during his leave. (See Doc. 22, Ex. B). That Mastrella eventually
exhausted his accumulated leave implies the Postal Service charged his FMLA
leave against accumulated leave. (See id. ¶ 59).
Case 1:20-cv-01135-CCC Document 37 Filed 11/18/21 Page 6 of 17
¶¶ 62, 64, Ex. D). White’s rationale is allegedly set forth in an email from White to
another Postal Service employee dated December 28, 2018:
I told Darrin [Dunlap] that we cannot not let Robert
[Mastrella] work. We in turn will be paying him free
money. Also need to make sure he is entered for FMLA
and does not get paid for a[n] 8 hour day if he is not
working a[n] 8 hour day.
(See id., Ex. B).7
Mastrella submitted his request for light duty to the DRAC on December 28,
2018. (Id., Ex. C). Per Postal Service policy, the DRAC must hold an “interactive
meeting” with applicants for accommodations within 30 days of receiving the
request. (See id. ¶¶ 44-46). In Mastrella’s case, the DRAC failed to schedule such a
meeting until January 28, 2019, and only did so after Mastrella complained. (See id.
¶ 47). The DRAC ultimately denied Mastrella’s request for light duty on March 18,
2019. (See id. ¶ 49).
Over the following months, Mastrella regularly objected to the Postal
Service’s requirement that he take FMLA leave, and, in further protest, he
submitted PS-3971 forms on a daily basis requesting permission to log two hours of
personal absence time. (See id. ¶¶ 63-65, Ex. D; Doc. 28 at 18-19). Mastrella alleges
his supervisor, Williams, altered the PS-3971 forms into requests for FMLA leave
without Mastrella’s permission. (See Doc. 22 ¶ 65; Doc. 28 at 18-19). Eventually,
Mastrella misquotes this email in the amended complaint. (See Doc. 22 ¶ 54
(“As an example, Ms. Shawn White, United States Postal Service’s Human
Resource Manager, stated “I told Darrin that we cannot let Robert [Mastrella] work.
We in turn will be paying him free money.”)). When an exhibit presented by a party
contradicts the allegations made by that party, the exhibit controls. Vorchheimer
v. Philadelphian Owners Ass’n, 903 F.3d 100, 111-12 (3d Cir. 2018).
Case 1:20-cv-01135-CCC Document 37 Filed 11/18/21 Page 7 of 17
Mastrella exhausted his accumulated leave—a total of 451.54 hours. (See Doc. 22
¶¶ 37, 59). According to the allegata, the Postal Service also treated Mastrella in a
hostile manner following his accommodation request. For example, it required him
to submit medical documents previously submitted, made him “chase [his] forms
down and retrieve copies [him]self,” and subjected him to excessive monitoring of
his actions and work performance. (See id. ¶¶ 22, 27; Doc. 28 at 18-19). As a result
of the Postal Service’s refusal to accommodate his disability, refusal to authorize
personal leave, and allegedly harassing behavior, Mastrella was “forced” to take
disability retirement on September 27, 2020. (See Doc. 22 ¶¶ 27-28). Nondisabled
employees, Mastrella alleges, were not subject to this same treatment, not “forced”
to take disability retirement, nor forced to exhaust their accumulated leave. (See id.
¶¶ 22, 38; see also Doc. 28 at 17-18).
Mastrella filed an administrative complaint with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on February 11, 2019. (See Doc. 22 ¶ 8).
Mastrella filed the present lawsuit on July 3, 2020, and filed an amended complaint
on February 1, 2021. The Postal Service moves to dismiss Mastrella’s amended
complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) for lack of
subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. This motion is fully
briefed and ripe for disposition.
Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the
dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
Case 1:20-cv-01135-CCC Document 37 Filed 11/18/21 Page 8 of 17
FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the
court must “accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable
reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.” Phillips v. County
of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings,
Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)). In addition to reviewing the facts
contained in the complaint, the court may also consider “exhibits attached to the
complaint, matters of public record, [and] undisputedly authentic documents if the
complainant’s claims are based upon these documents.” Mayer, 605 F.3d at 230
(citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp., 998 F.2d at 1196).
Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide “the
defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.”
Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (alteration in original) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To test the sufficiency of the complaint, the court conducts
a three-step inquiry. See Santiago v. Warminster Township, 629 F.3d 121, 130-31
(3d Cir. 2010). In the first step, “the court must ‘tak[e] note of the elements a
plaintiff must plead to state a claim.’” Id. at 130 (alteration in original) (quoting
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 675 (2009)). Next, the factual and legal elements of a
claim must be separated; well-pleaded facts are accepted as true, while mere legal
conclusions may be disregarded. Id. at 131-32; see Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578
F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Once the court isolates the well-pleaded factual
allegations, it must determine whether they are sufficient to show a “plausible claim
for relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); Twombly, 550
Case 1:20-cv-01135-CCC Document 37 Filed 11/18/21 Page 9 of 17
U.S. at 556. A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts “that allow
the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Rehab Act”), 29 U.S.C. § 791 et seq., takes the
protections against discrimination afforded individuals with disabilities by the
Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and applies them
to the federal government and entities that receive funding from the federal
government. See Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). Specifically,
the Rehab Act “forbids employers from discriminating against persons with
disabilities in matters of hiring, placement, or advancement.” Id. (quoting Shiring
v. Runyon, 90 F.3d 827, 830-31 (3d Cir. 1996)). It also provides that a “qualified
individual with a disability” cannot “be excluded from the participation in, be
denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or
activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity
conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service.” 29
U.S.C. § 794(a). The pleading requirements under the Rehab Act are identical to
those under the ADA. See McDonald v. Pa. Dep’t of Pub. Welfare, 62 F.3d 92, 95 (3d
To make out a claim of discrimination under the Rehab Act, a plaintiff must
establish that (1) he is disabled within the meaning of the Rehab Act; (2) he is
otherwise qualified for the position, with or without reasonable accommodation;
and (3) he suffered an adverse employment action as a result of discrimination. See
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Gibbs v. City of Pittsburgh, 989 F.3d 226, 229 (3d Cir. 2021) (citing Sulima
v. Tobyhanna Army Depot, 602 F.3d 177, 185 (3d Cir. 2010)). The burden of
establishing a prima facie case “is not onerous,” see Tex. Dep’t of Cmty. Affs.
v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981), and presents a “low bar” for employmentdiscrimination plaintiffs, see Scheidemantle v. Slippery Rock Univ. State Sys. of
Higher Educ., 470 F.3d 535, 539 (3d Cir. 2006).
Mastrella’s amended complaint is somewhat confusing. The court interprets
Mastrella’s pleading as making three distinct discrimination claims against his
former employer under the Rehab Act related to three adverse employment actions.
Mastrella claims he was subject to a discriminatory adverse employment action
when he was constructively discharged in September 2020 (Count I); when the
Postal Service failed to reasonably accommodate his disability by refusing to reduce
his workday from eight hours to six hours, i.e., “light duty” (Count II); and when the
Postal Service failed to reasonably accommodate him by refusing to allow him to
Case 1:20-cv-01135-CCC Document 37 Filed 11/18/21 Page 11 of 17
take two hours of personal absence time per day (Count III).8 The Postal Service
moves to dismiss all three counts under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.9
Count I: Constructive Discharge
The Postal Service mounts two attacks on Mastrella’s claim that his disability
retirement on September 27, 2020, constituted constructive discharge. The Postal
Service asserts, first, that Mastrella did not exhaust available administrative
remedies before bringing his claim in federal court and, second, assuming arguendo
Mastrella’s claim was properly exhausted, that he failed to plead sufficient facts to
sustain a constructive discharge claim. (See Doc. 27 at 8-11). We agree that the
claim is not properly exhausted, so we need not reach the Postal Service’s second
A potential plaintiff under the Rehab Act must “initiate contact with a
Counselor within 45 days of the date of the matter alleged to be discriminatory.”
29 C.F.R. § 1614.105(a)(1). The Postal Service suggests the United States Supreme
Court’s holding in Green v. Brennan, 578 U.S. 547, 136 S. Ct. 1769 (2016), prohibits
Mastrella makes a passing reference to the Postal Service’s failure to
engage in a good-faith “interactive process” as required by the Rehab Act. (See
Doc. 22 ¶ 52); see also Colwell v. Rite Aid Corp., 602 F.3d 495, 506-7 (3d Cir. 2010)
(providing overview of interactive-process claims). Given the conclusory nature of
Mastrella’s assertion, the lack of supporting facts, and Mastrella’s failure to argue
an interactive-process claim in his Rule 12(b)(6) opposition brief, we do not read
Mastrella’s complaint to include such a claim.
The failure to file a timely charge with the EEOC does not implicate a
district court’s subject-matter jurisdiction but is instead grounds for dismissal
under Rule 12(b)(6). See Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 455 U.S. 385, 393
(1982); see also Simko v. U.S. Steel Corp, 992 F.3d 198, 204 n.5 (3d Cir. 2021). We
will accordingly construe the Postal Service’s Rule 12(b)(1) motion as a Rule 12(b)(6)
Case 1:20-cv-01135-CCC Document 37 Filed 11/18/21 Page 12 of 17
inclusion of Mastrella’s constructive-discharge claim in this lawsuit because his
contact with the EEO counselor predated his retirement by more than a year and a
half. (See Doc. 27 at 8-9). In Green, the Supreme Court held that a constructive
discharge claim “does not exist until the employee resigns.” See Green, 136 S. Ct.
at 1781. Thus, according to the Postal Service, Mastrella has not yet exhausted his
administrative remedies because he failed to initiate contact anew with an EEO
counselor after his constructive discharge. (See Doc. 27 at 9).
In the Third Circuit, a subsequent employment discrimination claim does not
need to be exhausted when the acts alleged in the subsequent claim are “fairly
within the scope” of either (1) the prior EEOC complaint or (2) the investigation
arising therefrom. Simko, 992 F.3d at 207 (quoting Waiters v. Parsons, 729 F.2d 233,
237 (3d Cir. 1984)). This inquiry is “highly fact specific” and requires the court to
“examine carefully the prior pending EEOC complaint and the unexhausted claim
on a case-by-case-basis before determining that a second complaint need not have
been filed.” Id. (quoting Robinson v. Dalton, 107 F.3d 1018, 1024 (3d Cir. 1997)).
Because EEOC complaints are generally drafted by nonlawyers, courts must
liberally construe the scope of the original charge. See Hicks v. ABT Assocs., Inc.,
572 F.2d 960, 965 (3d Cir. 1978). Still, there must be a “close nexus” between the
facts alleged in the administrative charge and any newly raised claim. See id. at
967; see also Antol v. Perry, 82 F.3d 1291, 1295 (3d Cir. 1996).
We interpret Green as holding constructive discharge is an event that
happens at a discrete point in time. In that light, we cannot see how Mastrella’s
constructive discharge claim falls within his EEOC complaint or a reasonable
Case 1:20-cv-01135-CCC Document 37 Filed 11/18/21 Page 13 of 17
investigation of that complaint by the EEOC. See Simko, 992 F.3d at 207.
Mastrella’s alleged constructive discharge took place on September 27, 2020, (see
Doc. 22 ¶ 28), nearly 600 days after he filed the EEOC complaint, (see id. ¶ 8); more
than four months after he withdrew his complaint from the EEOC on May 19, 2020,
(see id.); and more than two months after he filed his original complaint with this
court on July 3, 2020, (see Doc. 1).
Mastrella responds cursorily that the alleged “harassment” in February 2019
is the same type of “harassment” that led him to retire in September 2020, (see Doc.
28 at 8-9), but he fails to identify any legal authority to support his view that this
assertion alone satisfies the exhaustion requirement. He alleges no facts to create
the requisite link between his new claim and the administrative proceeding. Nor
does he endeavor to answer the central question raised by the Postal Service, which
is how an adverse action that occurred 19 months after the EEOC complaint was
filed and four months after the EEOC proceeding concluded could be considered
“fairly within the scope” of either. See Simko, 992 F.3d at 207. Under the
circumstances, we are constrained to find that Mastrella’s constructive-discharge
claim is not encompassed in his original EEOC complaint. We will thus dismiss
Mastrella’s claim for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.
Counts II and III: Failure to Accommodate
The Rehab Act protects against discriminatory employment actions such as
termination or failure to hire, as well as failure to reasonably accommodate an
individual’s disability. See 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A)-(B). The elements of a failureto-accommodate claim are identical to those of a discrimination claim, including the
Case 1:20-cv-01135-CCC Document 37 Filed 11/18/21 Page 14 of 17
requirement of an adverse employment action. See Hohider v. UPS, Inc., 574 F.3d
169, 186-88 (3d Cir. 2009). An employer’s refusal to make reasonable
accommodations for an employee’s disabilities or failure to engage in “reasonable
efforts to assist the employee and to communicate with the employee in good faith”
both constitute adverse employment actions. See Colwell, 602 F.3d at 504 (citation
Mastrella contends that the Postal Service discriminated against him when it
refused to grant his request for a reduced six-hour workday. The Postal Service
does not contest that Mastrella is disabled nor that he could have continued to
perform his job with a reasonable accommodation. (See Doc. 27 at 7-8). Instead,
the Postal Service argues Mastrella failed to sufficiently allege a discriminatory
basis for the decision not to accommodate him. (See id. at 8).
The Postal Service’s argument overlooks the difference between a failure-toaccommodate claim and a direct-discrimination claim. Direct-discrimination claims
require discriminatory motive, but failure-to-accommodate claims do not.
Muhammad v. Ct. of Common Pleas of Allegheny Cnty., 483 F. App’x 759, 764 (3d
Cir. 2012) (nonprecedential)10; Holly v. Clairson Indus., L.L.C., 492 F.3d 1247, 126263 (11th Cir. 2007) (describing the difference between the two kinds of disability
claims). The mere failure to make a reasonable accommodation to the “known
The court acknowledges that nonprecedential decisions are not binding
upon federal district courts. Citations to nonprecedential decisions reflect that the
court has carefully considered and is persuaded by the panel’s ratio decidendi.
Case 1:20-cv-01135-CCC Document 37 Filed 11/18/21 Page 15 of 17
physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability
who is an applicant or employee” is enough to violate the Rehab Act unless the
Postal Service “can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue
hardship.” See 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A); see also Taylor v. Phoenixville Sch. Dist.,
184 F.3d 296, 311 (3d Cir. 1999). An allegation or inference of discriminatory intent
is simply not required to state a prima facie case. See, e.g., Muhammad, 483 F.
App’x at 764 (citing Good Sheperd Manor Found., Inc. v. City of Momence, 323 F.3d
557, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2003)); Sharbaugh v. W. Haven Manor, LP, No. CV 14-1723,
2016 WL 6834613, at *7 (W.D. Pa. Nov. 21, 2016) (citing Higgins v. New Balance
Athletic Shoe, Inc., 194 F.3d 252, 264 (1st Cir. 1999)); Bielich v. Johnson & Johnson,
Inc., 6 F. Supp. 3d 589, 617 (W.D. Pa. 2014) (same). We will therefore deny the
Postal Service’s motion to dismiss Mastrella’s discrimination claim founded on the
failure to accommodate him with a six-hour workday.
Personal Absence Time
As previously noted, Mastrella claims the Postal Service discriminated
against him when it refused to let him use “personal absence time”—which is paid
leave that does not count against his accumulated leave—to reduce his workday to
six hours and instead required him to take FMLA leave. (See Doc. 22 ¶¶ 59-61).
Mastrella alleges this constituted a failure to accommodate his disability and
ultimately required him to deplete all 451.54 hours of his accumulated leave. (See
id. ¶¶ 59, 67). The Postal Service argues that the decision to deny Mastrella his
accommodation was not formalized until the DRAC denied his request on March 18,
2019, approximately a month after Mastrella filed his EEOC complaint.
Case 1:20-cv-01135-CCC Document 37 Filed 11/18/21 Page 16 of 17
Accordingly, this failure to accommodate claim was never administratively
exhausted in proceedings before the EEOC and is now time barred. (See Doc. 27 at
We are not persuaded by the defendant’s argument. White and Dunlap, both
managers in the Harrisburg facility, denied Mastrella’s request before he filed his
EEOC complaint. (See Doc. 22 ¶¶ 54-55, 62, Exs. C, D). But even if no adverse
action occurred until March 18, we would still need to inquire whether the
subsequent failure-to-accommodate claim falls “fairly within the scope” of
Mastrella’s prior EEOC complaint or the investigation arising therefrom. See
Simko, 992 F.3d at 207. It clearly does. Even a cursory reading of the personal
statement attached to the EEOC complaint reveals Mastrella’s grievance was the
kind of leave the Postal Service compelled him to take in lieu of personal absence
time. Mastrella references leave requirements repeatedly in his personal statement.
(See Doc. 28 at 15-19). Among the desired remedies, he lists “change all leave
pertaining to my restriction to admin leave & reset balance for sick & annual.” (See
id. at 11). He complains that his leave requests are being altered without his
permission and in contravention of the Postal Service’s policies. (See id. at 18).
And he describes being granted personal absence time on a daily basis in the past to
accommodate his medical issues and asks, “Why was this allowed in the past but
not now?” (See id.)
The Postal Service’s allegedly unfair treatment of Mastrella’s leave requests
is not merely encompassed within the scope of the February 11, 2019 EEOC
complaint; it is the primary basis for his EEOC complaint. See Simko, 992 F.3d at
Case 1:20-cv-01135-CCC Document 37 Filed 11/18/21 Page 17 of 17
207. Mastrella has sufficiently exhausted his failure-to-accommodate claim
grounded in the Postal Service’s refusal to grant him personal absence time. We
will deny the Postal Service’s motion to dismiss this claim.
We will grant in part and deny in part DeJoy’s motion (Doc. 26) to dismiss
Mastrella’s amended complaint. An appropriate order shall issue.
/S/ CHRISTOPHER C. CONNER
Christopher C. Conner
United States District Judge
Middle District of Pennsylvania
November 18, 2021
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