By Michael Karlik – August 1, 2023
A Denver employee of the U.S. Postal Service failed to show her employer retaliated, discriminated against her or otherwise refused to accommodate her disability, the federal appeals court based in Colorado ruled last month.
Melissa M. Goodson held a variety of jobs within the Postal Service since 1997. After she suffered an on-the-job injury in 2000, she received permanent medical restrictions. Goodson, who is Black, claimed the Postal Service did not accommodate her disability, reassigned her based on discrimination, and subjected her to a hostile work environment because of her disability, sex and race.
Initially, a trial judge sided with the Postal Service, finding it had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for assigning Goodson to certain tasks. Further, not all of the conduct Goodson complained about was subject to a legal challenge.
For example, in 2012, Goodson and the Postal Service reached a settlement in which she received $7,000 and agreed not to sue over a recent job reassignment.
Consequently, “Ms. Goodson is barred from relitigating in this Court her failure to accommodate claim arising from her removal from her Tour III modified clerk position,” wrote U.S. District Court Senior Judge Christine M. Arguello in August 2022.
Alternatively, Goodson argued the Postal Service “fraudulently induced” her to settle by representing that two employees had bid on the job she desired and, under the terms of the union contract, she could not “bump” them from that assignment through her disability accommodation. Goodson claimed in her lawsuit that neither employee had actually bid on the job, but Arguello found no evidence supporting Goodson’s version of events.
Finally, Arguello did not believe Goodson was treated differently from other employees when the Postal Service attempted to reassign her to a new position in November 2013, shortly after Goodson filed a discrimination complaint. In reality, Goodson did not pass the exam for the new position and the Postal Service returned to her to her existing job with the same salary, benefits and hours.
There is “no evidence that Ms. Goodson’s disability was a motivating factor for the November 2013 reassignment letter,” Arguello wrote. “Under these circumstances, no reasonable jury could find that the November 2013 reassignment letter constitutes actionable conduct for a hostile work environment claim.”
Goodson, now representing herself, turned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. She reiterated that the Postal Service’s decisions to reassign her amounted to a “pattern of harassment” based on her protected characteristics. Further, a key witness’s shifting explanations suggested a jury should decide whether the Postal Service acted discriminatorily.
A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit waved aside Goodson’s concerns. As Arguello found, the Postal Service provided credible reasons rooted in the union contract and the bid system for assigning Goodson to various positions. Further, inconsistencies in witness testimony were “irrelevant,” especially in light of the decade-old events underlying the lawsuit.
“There is no dispute that USPS met its burden … to provide a legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason for its actions — the labor contract required USPS to place unassigned regular employees like Ms. Goodson in available jobs,” wrote Judge Scott M. Matheson Jr. in the panel’s July 27 order.