857 F.2d 1073 (6th Cir. 1988), 86-2082, Hall v. United States Postal Service

Docket Nº:86-2082.
Citation:857 F.2d 1073
Party Name:Odis D. HALL, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE; Paul N. Carlin; and Chester Cole, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:August 23, 1988
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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857 F.2d 1073 (6th Cir. 1988)

Odis D. HALL, Plaintiff-Appellant,



Cole, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 86-2082.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

August 23, 1988

Submitted Dec. 15, 1987.

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Mark H. Magidson, Detroit, Mich., for plaintiff-appellant.

Peter A. Caplin, Asst. U.S. Atty., Detroit, Mich., for defendants-appellees.

Before JONES, WELLFORD and BOGGS, Circuit Judges.

NATHANIEL R. JONES, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-appellant, Odis D. Hall, brought this action under the Rehabilitation Act of

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1973, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 701, et seq. (1982), alleging that the United States Postal Service improperly denied her a position as a distribution clerk based on her physical handicap. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. Because we find that there are genuine issues of material fact that remain unresolved, we reverse the court's grant of summary judgment and remand for further proceedings in the district court.


The underlying facts giving rise to this lawsuit are largely undisputed. Plaintiff, Odis D. Hall, who is a 47 year old woman, began working with defendant, the United States Postal Service, in 1968 as a letter carrier in the Detroit Region. At the time she was hired, Hall passed two tests; one for a clerk's position and the other for letter carrier. While she could have taken either position, she chose to be a letter carrier. In that capacity, Hall sorted and delivered mail on foot, a job which she held for five years. Occasionally during this period she performed what she termed "clerk work" at the main post office during the Christmas rush. Hall could not say exactly what type of clerk work she was doing, but she did indicate that no heavy lifting was required and that the job basically involved sorting mail.

On June 11, 1973, while in the course of delivering mail, an automobile went out of control and struck Hall, causing injury to her right hip, foot and back. As a result of this on-the-job injury, Hall received Workers' Compensation benefits under the Federal Employee Compensation Act ("FECA"). She continued to receive this compensation until June 1982, when it was determined that she was no longer disabled.

On October 7, 1984, fifteen months after she stopped receiving FECA benefits, Hall wrote the Detroit Postmaster requesting that she be "reinstated as a Distribution Clerk at the General Mail facility." J. App. at 105-06. She did not request reinstatement to her carrier position because she could no longer do all of the walking, lifting and bending required of that position. Hall asked to become a distribution clerk because she "assumed" that it was the same position that she had previously performed with the postal service during the Christmas rush. Moreover, she believed that her physical limitations would not prevent her from doing the work that she formerly performed as a clerk at the main post office. According to Hall's deposition: "Whatever I was doing then I can do now." Id. at 66.

The job description of a distribution clerk states that the position requires, among other things, lifting up to 70 pounds, kneeling and repeated bending. David Adams, a Supervisor of Employment and Placement at the Detroit Post Office, described in his affidavit the basic functions of a distribution clerk:

The job involves substantial amounts of heavy lifting and bending. Distribution clerks must lift heavy sacks of mail, dump them out and then sort the mail. They also must lift parcel post packages weighing up to 70 pounds. The heavy lifting is an essential part of the job, as it is often done repetitively throughout the day.

Id. at 96.

During the course of the application process, Hall was found to be unable to perform the physical requirements of the job--particularly the heavy lifting and bending--and therefore medically unsuited for the distribution clerk position. According to Adams, this conclusion was based in part upon the opinion of Hall's treating physician who stated that she was able to perform employment not requiring excessive bending and strenuous lifting. The Postal Service's examining physician concurred with this conclusion stating, in his report dated April 15, 1985, that Hall could not meet the criteria of heavy lifting and bending without serious risk to her health. Therefore, on May 16, 1985, Hall's application was denied.

During the first week of May 1985, prior to her application being formally denied, Hall went to the Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") Office at the Detroit Post

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Office to file a complaint that she was being discriminated against by the Post Office due to her physical handicap. According to Hall, she spoke with an EEO officer and asked that there be an investigation regarding the denial of her application. Hall alleges that she was told by the officer at this time that she would have to wait until she received the actual denial or termination from the Post Office before any action could be taken. Id. at 6. Thereafter, in the third week of May 1985, after receiving the letter informing her that her application was denied, Hall went back to the EEO office and renewed her request that an investigation be undertaken regarding her complaint of handicap discrimination. Id. at 7.

After 180 days passed without any action by the EEO office, Hall, on December 30, 1985, filed her complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against the United States Postal Service, Paul N. Carlin, then Postmaster General of the United States, 1 and Chester Cole, Postmaster of the Detroit, Michigan Post Office. 2 In her complaint, Hall alleged she had been denied a position with the Postal Service because of a physical handicap in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("the Rehabilitation Act" or "the Act"), 29 U.S.C. Sec. 701 et seq. (1982), the regulations issued thereunder, 29 C.F.R. Sec. 1613.701 et seq. (1987), and the Michigan Handicappers Civil Rights Act.

Prior to answering Hall's complaint, the defendants, on March 11, 1986, filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment. In this motion, the defendants argued, among other things, that the district court did not have jurisdiction over Hall's Rehabilitation Act claim because she had not exhausted her administrative remedies, and, further, that her claim for relief under Michigan law must be dismissed because the Rehabilitation Act provides the exclusive remedy for a federal employee's claim of handicap discrimination. By order dated May 20, 1986, Judge Horace Gilmore granted defendants' motion to dismiss as to the claim filed pursuant to the Michigan Handicappers Civil Rights Act, but denied the motion as to the claim arising under the Rehabilitation Act.

Thereafter, on May 30, 1986, the defendants filed their answer to plaintiff's Rehabilitation Act claim, and put forth three affirmative defenses, including the defense that plaintiff had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies.

The parties conducted limited discovery and, on September 19, 1987, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. In their motion, the defendants argued that the Rehabilitation Act forbids discrimination in employment against an "otherwise qualified handicapped individual," which is defined as a person who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the position in question. In defendants' view, the 70 pound lifting requirement is an essential function of the distribution clerk position for which Hall applied. The defendants argued that since Hall admittedly could not perform this heavy lifting and since they were not required by the Act to accommodate Hall by eliminating this "essential" function, Hall was not an "otherwise qualified handicapped individual." Thus, the defendants argued, she could not maintain a claim of handicap discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act.

In his oral opinion, Judge Gilmore agreed with defendants' contention that the 70 pound lifting requirement for distribution clerks was an essential function of the job and that there was no factual question as to this issue. The court also agreed with defendants' argument that the Postal Service did not have to modify the lifting "requirement" so that Hall could perform the job, because this would result in the elimination of an essential function of the distribution

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clerk position. Such an accommodation, in the view of the district court, would not be reasonable and, therefore, was not required by the Act.

Because Hall believed there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether the lifting requirement was an essential function and as to whether a reasonable accommodation could be made, she timely filed this appeal.


The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 701 et seq. (1982), is a program designed to assist and protect the rights of the handicapped. Title V of the Act prohibits federal agencies, federal contractors, and recipients of federal funds from discriminating against handicapped individuals. Toward this end, section 504 of the Act provides in pertinent part:

No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States ... shall, solely by reason of his handicap, 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.

Id. Sec. 794 (emphasis added). In addition, section 501 of the Act requires federal employers, including the Post Office, to undertake affirmative action on behalf of the handicapped. Id. Sec. 791(b). This affirmative action obligation goes beyond the obligation set forth in section 504, which, by its terms,...

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