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Vantrease v. United States Postal Service

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

November 21, 2019




         THIS CAUSE is before the Court upon Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, ECF No. [92] (“Motion”). The Court has carefully considered the Motion, Plaintiff's Response, ECF No. [105], the Reply, ECF No. [116], all supporting and opposing submissions, the record in this case, the applicable law, and is otherwise fully advised. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is denied.


         This case arises from alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq. Plaintiff Aaron Vantrease (“Plaintiff”) seeks recovery for unpaid overtime (Count 1) and retaliation (Count 3). See Amended Complaint, ECF No. [42].[1] In the Motion, Defendant requests summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims for hours worked under forty (40) hours per week, retaliation, and hostile work environment. As Plaintiff correctly points out, however, the Amended Complaint does not allege a claim for unpaid minimum wages under the FLSA, or for hostile work environment separate from his retaliation claim. See ECF No. [105] at 4, 18. As such, the only claim at issue in Defendant's Motion is Plaintiff's retaliation claim.


         Plaintiff was as a Rural Carrier Associate (“RCA”) for the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) from February 2017 until his termination on September 13, 2018. Defendant's Undisputed Statement of Material Facts (“Def. SOMF”), ECF No. [92] at 2-6, ¶ 1; ECF No. [91-15].[2] As an RCA, Plaintiff delivered mail and packages to Postal Service customers, filling in for other carriers, or when he was assigned to assist a carrier. Def. SOMF ¶ 2. Plaintiff also delivered Amazon packages and other special mail. Id. Plaintiff worked out of two postal stations-the Delray Main and Delray West stations. Id. ¶ 3. Plaintiff's immediate supervisor at Delray West was Michael Razzano, and his supervisors at the Main Post Office were Tia Odom and Vince Rollerson. Id. ¶ 4; Plaintiff's Opposing Statement of Material Facts (“Pl. SOMF”), ECF No. [106] ¶ 4. Plaintiff was also supervised by John Miceli and John Fanelli. Def. SOMF ¶ 5. The manager for the Delray West branch for most of the time of Plaintiff's employment was Steve Maiorino. Id. ¶ 6.

         Beginning in mid-2017, Plaintiff reported issues of missing wages and failure to pay overtime to his superiors and human resources. Pl. SOMF ¶ 25; ECF No. [107-1]. Plaintiff also complained to Maiorino. Id. ¶ 26. In late 2017, Plaintiff complained to the Postal Service's Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) about alleged time card fraud being committed by other USPS employees, including USPS management. Def. SOMF ¶ 8. In early January 2018, Plaintiff reported the FLSA violations including missing overtime and other ongoing fraud and thefts to the Postmaster, Joseph Molfetto. Pl. SOMF ¶ 27. Thereafter, Plaintiff lodged a congressional complaint regarding the alleged time card fraud committed by RCA Ashley Royster and Regular Rural Carrier Lee Ann Velez. Def. SOMF ¶ 9; Pl. SOMF ¶¶ 27, 29; ECF No. [91-2]; ECF Nos. [91-1], [107-2] (“Report”). The OIG conducted an investigation covering the time period of January 16, 2018 to March 30, 2018, and issued its Report dated April 12, 2018. Def. SOMF ¶ 8. During the investigation, Velez asked the OIG agent if the person who made the allegations against her was Plaintiff. Pl. SOMF ¶ 31. Molfetto stated that he was not aware of any time card fraud and had not been advised of time card fraud issues occurring at Delray West. Pl. SOMF ¶ 32. On February 12, 2018, four days after the OIG agent interviewed Plaintiff's supervisor Razzano, Razzano conducted an investigative interview of Plaintiff for unsatisfactory performance and failure to follow instructions. Id. ¶ 35. Ultimately, according to the OIG Report, the investigation could not substantiate any of Vantrease's allegations. ECF Nos. [91-1], [107-2] at 3. On May 6, 2018, after the OIG completed its investigation, Plaintiff sent another letter to his congressman regarding the alleged time card fraud and the OIG investigation. ECF No. [91-3].

         In April 2018, Royster and another USPS employee, Ebony Heller, complained about Plaintiff's conduct. Def. SOMF ¶ 10. Heller stated that she did not feel safe working around Plaintiff. Royster stated that Plaintiff made her feel uncomfortable, that he scared her, and that she feared for her life whenever they work together. ECF No. [91-4] at 3; ECF No. [107-7] at 10. Velez also complained about Plaintiff's conduct. ECF No. [91-7]. The USPS Inspection Service thereafter conducted an investigation. ECF Nos. [91-6], [107-7], [91-8], [107-13]. On May 4, 2018, Plaintiff was interviewed by two postal inspectors regarding Royster and Heller's complaints. Plaintiff admitted to making a statement sympathizing with the Parkland shooter to make a point of how evil Razzano was as a manager. ECF No. [91-10]. Plaintiff also admitted to making copies of Royster's time cards in order to prove employees were stealing time by marking incorrect start times. Id. On May 8, 2018, Miceli issued Plaintiff a letter of warning for failing to follow instructions. Pl. SOMF ¶ 40. Plaintiff met with Miceli and Fanelli on May 18, 2018 and was then placed in emergency off duty status that same day. Def. SOMF ¶¶ 15-16; Pl. SOMF ¶ 39. Plaintiff was subsequently instructed to report to work on May 21, 2018, May 24, 2018, and May 29, 2018 for additional investigative interviews regarding his continued absence without leave. Pl. SOMF ¶¶ 49-50; ECF No. [107-9], [107-10]. Plaintiff did not appear on May 29, 2018. In total, Supervisor Miceli, who replaced Razzano, conducted seven investigative interviews of Plaintiff-two on April 9, 2018, two on April 20, 2018, two on May 9, 2018 and one on May 18, 2018. Pl. SOMF ¶ 39. The parties dispute whether Plaintiff was properly paid for the investigative interviews.

         On May 30, 2018, the same postal inspectors interviewed Plaintiff with respect to Velez's complaint. ECF No. [91-11]. Plaintiff denied making any statements regarding an intent to harm anyone at the post office. Id. On July 11, 2018, supervisor Abideen Adeyemo, with the agreement of acting manager Angela Byers and approval from Maiorino, requested that Plaintiff be permanently removed from USPS employment for failure to appear as directed on May 29, 2018. Pl. SOMF ¶ 62.

         Ultimately, Maiorino sent Plaintiff a text message on July 16, 2018, advising Plaintiff to report to work at Delray West on July 17, 2018. Def. SOMF ¶ 20; Pl. SOMF ¶ 20. After Plaintiff failed to report to work on July 17, 2018, USPS sent Plaintiff a letter regarding his failure to report, and instructed him to report to work on July 19, 2018. Def. SOMF ¶ 21. According to Plaintiff, the letter was delivered to his mailbox less than 24 hours before he was to report for duty. Pl. SOMF ¶ 21. Plaintiff again did not report for work on July 19, 2018, and he was sent another letter on July 21, 2018, directing him to report to work on July 25, 2018. Def. SOMF ¶ 22. Plaintiff received the letter on July 24, 2018 at 11:40 a.m., and maintains that the letter was not received with reasonable advance notice. Pl. SOMF ¶ 22. Plaintiff did not report to work on July 24, 2018. Def. SOMF ¶ 23. By letter dated August 13, 2018, Plaintiff was advised that he was going to be removed from USPS on September 13, 2018 because he was deemed to have abandoned his position due to his failure to report to work. Id. ¶ 23.


         A court may grant a motion for 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 law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The parties may support their positions by citation to the record, including, inter alia, depositions, documents, affidavits, or declarations. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). An issue is genuine if “a reasonable trier of fact could return judgment for the non-moving party.” Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Fla. v. United States, 516 F.3d 1235, 1243 (11th Cir. 2008) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)). A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48). The court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in the party's favor. Davis v. Williams, 451 F.3d 759, 763 (11th Cir. 2006); see also Crocker v. Beatty , 886 F.3d 1132, 1134 (11th Cir. 2018) (“[W]e accept [the non-movant's] version of the facts as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to him as the non-movant.”). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party].” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. “If more than one inference could be construed from the facts by a reasonable fact finder, and that inference introduces a genuine issue of material fact, then the district court should not grant summary judgment.” Bannum, Inc. v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 901 F.2d 989, 996 (11th Cir. 1990). The Court does not weigh conflicting evidence. See Skop v. City of Atlanta, Ga., 485 F.3d 1130, 1140 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Carlin Comm'n, Inc. v. S. Bell Tel. & Tel. Co., 802 F.2d 1352, 1356 (11th Cir. 1986)).

         The moving party shoulders the initial burden to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Shiver v. Chertoff, 549 F.3d 1342, 1343 (11th Cir. 2008). If a movant satisfies this burden, “the non-moving party ‘must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.'” Ray v. Equifax Info. Servs., L.L.C., 327 Fed.Appx. 819, 825 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). Instead, “the non-moving party ‘must make a sufficient showing on each essential element of the case for which he has the burden of proof.'” Id. (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). The non-moving party must produce evidence, going beyond the pleadings, and by its own affidavits, or by depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designating specific facts to suggest that a reasonable jury could find in the non-moving party's favor. Shiver, 549 F.3d at 1343. But even where an opposing party neglects to submit any alleged material facts in controversy, a court cannot grant summary judgment unless it is satisfied that all of the evidence on the record supports the uncontroverted material facts that the movant has proposed. Reese v. Herbert, 527 F.3d 1253, 1268-69, 1272 (11th Cir. 2008); United States v. One Piece of Real Prop. Located at 5800 S.W. 74th Ave., Miami, Fla., 363 F.3d 1099, 1103 n.6 (11th Cir. 2004).

         IV. ...

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