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Hutchens v. Mail Contractors of America, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Brunswick Division

November 13, 2014

JANNET E. HUTCHENS, Plaintiff,
v.
MAIL CONTRACTORS OF AMERICA, INC., d/b/a Salmon Companies, PATRICK R. DONOHOE, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service, and DAMIAN R. RAWSKI, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Postmaster, Brunswick (Georgia) Station, Defendants.

ORDER

J. RANDAL HALL, District Judge.

In this action, Defendants Patrick Donohoe, Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service ("USPS"), and Damian R. Rawski, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Postmaster of the Brunswick, Georgia Station (collectively, "the USPS Defendants"), move to dismiss Plaintiff Jannet Hutchens' complaint in its entirety. (Doc. 20.) Ms, Hutchens, an employee of a federal contractor, contends the USPS Defendants retaliated against her by revoking her access to USPS facilities after she testified at an administrative hearing on claims of race discrimination against USPS. The USPS Defendants contend this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Ms. Hutchens' claims and that she has failed to state a claim upon which the Court can grant relief because she has not exhausted her administrative remedies. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS the USPS Defendants' motion to dismiss. (Doc. 20.)

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises from Ms. Hutchens' employment as a truck driver for Mail Contractors of America, Inc. ("MCA"), a position she has held since March 9, 2000. (Am. Compl., Doc. 11, ¶ 13.) Throughout her tenure, Ms. Hutchens drove 18-wheel tractor-trailers from the USPS facility at St. Simons Island, Georgia, to the USPS facility at Jacksonville, Florida. (Id. ¶ 14.)

On April 5, 2012, Ms. Hutchens testified at an administrative hearing on a USPS employee's claims of race discrimination brought pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Id. ¶ 15.) Prior to the hearing, Ms. Hutchens' counsel wrote a letter to her MCA supervisor requesting leave to testify at the hearing. (Id. ¶¶ 16-18 & Ex. 1.) The administrative law judge ultimately rendered a decision in that employee's discrimination action on November 30, 2012. (Id. ¶ 20.)

On November 15, 2012, Ms. Hutchens' supervisor notified her that USPS personnel made a complaint that Ms. Hutchens cursed at another driver. (Id. ¶ 21.) Ms. Hutchens alleges that this complaint is untrue. (Id. ¶ 22.) Ms. Hutchens' MCA supervisor then notified Ms. Hutchens that USPS "pulled" her badge and, therefore, she could no longer drive for MCA, whose only customer is USPS. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 24.) Plaintiff "has not been terminated" by MCA, but has not been allowed to work for MCA since November 15, 2012. (Id. ¶¶ 31, 32.)

On February 15, 2013, USPS wrote a letter stating that it permanently revoked Ms. Hutchens' driver access to all USPS facilities because she pulled a trailer away from the loading dock at the Jacksonville facility while the dock door was still open. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 26.) USPS stated that this action endangered plant personnel who were not aware that the trailer was being moved. (Id. ¶ 26.) The letter also informed Ms. Hutchens of her right to appeal the decision, which had to be completed within five days pursuant to USPS Management Instruction ("MI") PO-530-2009-4, Section 172. (Pl.'s Resp., Doc. 22, Ex. A.) According to Ms. Hutchens, however, the locking mechanism would not have allowed her to pull away from the dock until a postal employee released the locking mechanism on the tandem bumper of the trailer. (Am. Compl. ¶ 27.)

MCA did nothing to intervene on Ms. Hutchens' behalf in response to the accusations made by USPS. (Id. ¶ 34.) Instead, Ms. Hutchens' counsel responded to USPS's letter. (Pl.'s Resp., Doc. 22, Ex. A.) In her response, Ms. Hutchens notified USPS that she wished to appeal the denial of access, identified two witnesses to verify her compliance with USPS policies on the day in question, and requested a copy of the Management Instruction that outlined the appeal procedure. (Id.) Ms. Hutchens also contacted the president of the American Postal Workers Union ("APWU"), of which she was a member, for assistance in filing an administrative claim. (Pl.'s Resp. at 6.) She apparently received no response from USPS or APWU. (Id.)

Thereafter, within the required 180 days, Ms. Hutchens filed a charge of retaliation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (Am. Compl. ¶ 10.) Ms. Hutchens asserts that "the EEOC did not investigate or pursue [her] charge of retaliation against the USPS, " but only as against her employer, MCA. (Pl.'s Resp. at 6.) Indeed, on June 28, 2013, the EEOC issued Ms. Hutchens a Notice of Right to Sue, with the only identified responding party being the Salmon Companies, MCA's parent. (Doc. 1, Ex. A.) Ms. Hutchens has not filed any administrative claims of employment discrimination or tort claims against USPS. (Defs.' Br., Doc. 20, Ex. A ("Beatty Decl."), ¶¶ 2, 4 & Ex. B ("Pagan Decl."), ¶ 7.)

On January 17, 2014, MCA moved to dismiss Ms. Hutchens' claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which it renewed on February 21, 2014 after Ms. Hutchens amended her complaint. (Docs. 6, 11.) As to MCA, the Court ultimately found that Ms. Hutchens' allegations failed to show any causal connection between her protected activity and being placed on leave. (Doc. 28.) The fact that USPS - not MCA - permanently revoked her access to USPS facilities, combined with the seven-month delay between Ms. Hutchens' protected testimony and her placement on leave by MCA, was insufficient to establish causation, and the retaliation claim against MCA thus failed as a matter of law. (Id. at 6, 7.)

II. DISCUSSION

Now, in moving to dismiss all Ms. Hutchens' claims, the USPS Defendants posit that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because Ms. Hutchens is not an "employee" of USPS as a federal contractor, and thus she cannot overcome USPS's sovereign immunity by way of Title VII, which only creates liability by a federal agency as to "employees and applicants for employment."[1]

42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c). The Court, however, finds that a determination of whether Ms. Hutchens was an "employee" of USPS for Title VII purposes is not necessary because Ms. Hutchens' failure to seek the appropriate EEO counseling within the required forty-five days after the alleged discriminatory act is grounds for dismissal. The Court addresses ...


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