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Barton v. Donahue

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

February 6, 2015

LORI BARTON, pro se, Plaintiff,
v.
PATRICK R. DONAHUE, ERIC HOLDER, LEANDER HARRIS, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

CALLIE V. S. GRANADE, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 31), Plaintiff's opposition (Doc. 33), Defendants' reply (Doc. 34), and Plaintiff's sur-reply (Doc. 35). For the reasons explained below, the court finds that Defendants' motion is due to be GRANTED.

FACTS

Plaintiff filed this action pro se on December 27, 2013, alleging that she was sexually harassed by her manager, Defendant Leander Harris, while she was employed as a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service ("the Agency"). (Docs. 1, 4). The Amended Complaint asserts that the sexual harassment started in 2007 and eventually led to her latest EEOC matter which is based on Plaintiff being "put off the clock" on December 9, 2011, while an investigation was conducted concerning mail delivered to a complex on Plaintiff's route. (Doc. 4, pp. 2-4). Plaintiff had been delivering mail to a housing project that had been closed for more than two months, in violation of Postal regulations. (Doc. 31-5, ΒΆΒΆ 3-9). On December 9, 2011, Plaintiff's supervisor discovered that Plaintiff had been delivering the mail to the closed housing project and Plaintiff was placed on off-duty status without pay at the close of business that day. (Doc. 31-5, p. 22).

Plaintiff initiated contact with the EEOC about her claim in March 2012 and filed a formal complaint on May 19, 2012. (Doc. 4, p. 9, Doc. 31-3, p. 70). On the complaint form the Plaintiff checked boxes for discrimination on the basis of sex and retaliation. (Doc. 33-3, p. 70). In the EEOC complaint she described the specific actions that resulted in her believing she was discriminated against as follows:

MGMT. GAVE FALSE STATEMENTS. THE ATTACKS ON ME ARE BECAUSE OF OTHER EEO'S FILED PREVIOUSLY ON LEANDER HARRIS. THESE ATTACKS ARE ON-GOING.

(Doc. 33-3, p. 70). By letter dated June 8, 2012, the EEOC acknowledged receipt of Plaintiff's formal complaint and stated that the investigation would include only the issue of discrimination based on retaliation. (Doc. 33-3, pp. 70-74). The letter also stated that if she did not agree with the defined accepted issues, she must provide a written response specifying the nature of her disagreement within seven calendar days of receipt of the letter. (Doc. 33-3, p. 72-74). The Administrative Law Judge found that Plaintiff did not establish a prima facie case of reprisal discrimination and that the Agency had articulated legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions which Plaintiff failed to show were a pretext. (Doc. 4, pp. 9-10). Plaintiff appealed the decision and the EEOC affirmed the decision. (Doc. 4. pp. 9-14). The Plaintiff attached a copy of the EEOC's decision to her original and amended complaint in this matter. (Docs. 1, 4). The EEOC noted in its decision that on appeal Plaintiff had attempted to raise a claim of sexual harassment, but that it was inappropriate for her to raise the claim for the first time on appeal. (Doc. 4, p. 13).[1]

At her deposition, Plaintiff testified that the last incident of sexual harassment was in 2008. (Doc. 31-1, p. 5). Plaintiff appears to be confused about her claims, as she apparently believes she has been subjected to other harassment "stemming from sexual harassment." (See Doc. 31-1, p. 5: "That's not sexual harassment. That's harassment stemming from sexual harassment. Because like I said, if I had had sex with him, I probably wouldn't have had no other problem." - The full context of these statements was not provided to the court.).

Plaintiff initiated numerous other EEOC claims in the past. Since the alleged sexual harassment started in 2007, Plaintiff has initiated a total of five EEOC complaints: the complaint described above and four prior complaints.[2] The first complaint, dated July 1, 2009, alleged sexual harassment and reprisal. (Doc. 31-3, pp. 18-21). The 2009 complaint was not resolved and Plaintiff was informed of her right to file a formal complaint, but Plaintiff took no further action. (Doc. 33-3, p. 20). The second complaint, dated October 25, 2010, alleged disability and sexual harassment. (Doc. 31-3, pp. 27-33). The 2010 matter was settled by the parties. (Doc. 33-3, pp. 31-33). The third complaint, dated September 30, 2011, alleged sexual harassment and reprisal. (Doc. 31-3, pp. 34-39). The September 30, 2011, complaint was not settled and Plaintiff filed a formal complaint with the Agency which was later dismissed by the Agency. (Doc. 31-3, pp. 36-37). Plaintiff appealed the dismissal and the decision was affirmed by the EEOC. (Doc. 33-3, p. 37). The fourth complaint, dated December 21, 2011, alleged reprisal only. (Doc. 33-3, pp. 22-26). The December 21, 2011, complaint was withdrawn by Plaintiff. (Doc. 33-3, p. 26).

DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment shall be granted: "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." The trial court's function is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). "The mere existence of some evidence to support the non-moving party is not sufficient for denial of summary judgment; there must be sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.'" Bailey v. Allgas, Inc., 284 F.3d 1237, 1243 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249). "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, at 249-250. (internal citations omitted).

The basic issue before the court on a motion for summary judgment is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-252. The moving party bears the burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact exists. O'Ferrell v. United States, 253 F.3d 1257, 1265 (11th Cir. 2001). In evaluating the argument of the moving party, the court must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and resolve all reasonable doubts about the facts in its favor. Burton v. City of Belle Glade, 178 F.3d 1175, 1187 (11th Cir. 1999). "If reasonable minds could differ on the inferences arising from undisputed facts, then a court should deny summary judgment." Miranda v. B&B Cash Grocery Store, Inc., 975 F.2d 1518, 1534 (11th Cir. 1992) (citing Mercantile Bank & Trust v. Fidelity & Deposit Co., 750 F.2d 838, 841 (11th Cir. 1985)).

Once the movant satisfies his initial burden under Rule 56(c), the non-moving party "must make a sufficient showing to establish the existence of each essential element to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Howard v. BP Oil Company, 32 F.3d 520, 524 (11th Cir. 1994)(citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). Otherwise stated, the non-movant must "demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment." See Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). The non-moving party "may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading; rather, its response.... must be by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule be set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Vega v. Invsco Group, Ltd., 2011 WL 2533755, *2 (11th Cir. 2011). "A mere scintilla' of evidence supporting the [non-moving] party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury could reasonably find for that party." Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). "[T]he nonmoving party may avail itself of all facts and justifiable inferences in the record taken as a whole." Tipton v. Bergrohr ...


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