Schultz v. Brennan, Civil Action No. 16-1433

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtMagistrate Judge Maureen P. Kelly
PartiesDAVID SCHULTZ, Plaintiff, v. MEGAN J. BRENNAN, United States Postmaster General, Defendant.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 16-1433
Decision Date26 November 2018

MEGAN J. BRENNAN, United States Postmaster General, Defendant.

Civil Action No. 16-1433


November 26, 2018

Magistrate Judge Maureen P. Kelly

Re: ECF No. 39


KELLY, Magistrate Judge

Plaintiff David Schultz ("Plaintiff") initiated this action against his employer, Defendant Megan J. Brennan, in her capacity as United States Postmaster General ("USPS" or "Defendant"), alleging that he was subject to discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701, et seq., (the "Rehabilitation Act") as a result of Defendant's failure to reasonably accommodate his tinnitus during the period September 2015 through July 2017.

Presently before the Court is the USPS's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 39, contending that as a matter of law, Plaintiff has not established a prima facie case that his employer failed to reasonably accommodate his disability, nor facts to infer that he was retaliated against in any way. For the reasons that follow, the Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.1

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Plaintiff David Schultz has been employed by the USPS as a mail clerk for over thirty years, with the vast majority of that time assigned to the post office in Butler, Pennsylvania. ECF No. 47-1 at 2. Plaintiff suffers from tinnitus and high blood pressure, which can cause migraine headaches.

As a mail clerk, Plaintiff sorts mail for distribution and works at a window counter. Id. at 2-3. Until July 2017, Plaintiff typically sorted mail between 4:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. each morning, and was joined by individual mail carriers beginning at approximately 7:45 a.m. Plaintiff alleges that beginning in 2015, mail carriers would "blast" music, playing radios, and this would irritate him. Id. at 3, 16, 20. Loud music would cause Plaintiff's blood pressure to rise, and increase ringing in his ears. The ringing would cause headaches or migraines, forcing Plaintiff to miss 12-14 days of work over the period from November 2015 through July 2017. Id. 4-5. Plaintiff treats his headaches with over-the-counter Excedrine Migraine or Advil. Id. at 17.

The Butler Post Office mail sorting floor has been equipped with a centrally located radio with speakers for at least thirty years. Id. at 20-21. While various employees disagreed over the type of music to be played, a compromise was worked out and in place for approximately six years, and music stations would be rotated by day. Id. at 37. Plaintiff was "mostly" able to work under these conditions and did not lodge any complaints. Id. Beginning in 2015, however, certain mail carriers would turn the radio on to a rock station with "headbanging music" and would not agree to turn down the volume or change the station to "milder music." In September 2015, Plaintiff complained to John Jackson, a supervisor, and stated that he "needed reasonable

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accommodations [because] I cannot be listening to the loud and irritating music." Id. at 22. Plaintiff states that although Mr. Jackson agreed to resolve the situation, "nothing ever happened." Id. at 23. On October 22, 2015, Plaintiff again asked for "an accommodation" to turn down the radio and to change the station from "hard rock." A district manager however, told him to wear earplugs or to use ear muffs over his hearing aids. Id. 23-25. Plaintiff states he was told he could not change the radio station on his own, and that if he needed an accommodation, he would need to "go to the accommodations committee." Id. at 28. After this "confrontation," Plaintiff spoke with the facility postmaster on October 25, 2015, and submitted a formal request for accommodation along with medical documentation of his tinnitus and need for quieter working conditions. Id. at 28-29; 42-2. As a result, on October 30, 2015, the Butler Postmaster ordered that the central radio volume be lowered or turned off while Plaintiff was on the sorting floor, and permitted Plaintiff to increase the volume of his personal mail sorting equipment ("PASS machine"). ECF No. 42-3.

When this solution proved inadequate to Plaintiff due to mail carrier noncompliance, Plaintiff lodged a second written complaint in January 2016. In response, on January 22, 2016, the Postmaster ordered that the facility radio be removed and directed employees to use earbuds when listening to music on personal devices. ECF No. 47-1 at 30, 36, ECF No. 42-4. This resolved the situation for a few months, until one of the carriers brought a radio work. Other carriers followed suit, and each carrier listened to music on his or her own radio or cell phone. ECF No. 47-1 at 35. These personal radios interfered with Plaintiff's ability to hear directions on his PASS machine and led him to verbally complain to various supervising personnel. While the volume of each radio or cell phone was not necessarily troublesome, Plaintiff found the noise

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disrupted his ability to hear well. Id. at 37. Through legal counsel, Plaintiff submitted a second formal request for accommodation on July 18, 2017, indicating that since March 2016, radio noise had continued to occur while Plaintiff was present sorting mail. Plaintiff requested that all radios be banned from the work floor. ECF No. 42-7 at 2. Thereafter, Plaintiff's schedule was configured so that Plaintiff was assigned to a window counter on a different floor during the 2.5 hours each morning that mail carriers are present on the mail distribution floor. In addition, all audible music was banned on the workroom floor as of October 31, 2017, whenever Plaintiff was present. ECF Nos. 42-10, 45 at 8-10.

Plaintiff indicates that despite the prohibition against audible music after January 2016, no mail carrier was disciplined for violating the accommodation rule, and sporadic violations continued for 18 months until his schedule was revised. While there is conflicting evidence that at least one supervisor told Plaintiff he would "take care" of the violations but failed to do so, other supervisory personnel addressed the issue when raised by Plaintiff, and instructed disobedient employees to use ear buds or turn off their devices. ECF No. 47-7. In addition, Plaintiff was informed that in the event additional steps were necessary, he was to contact the accommodations committee, but did so only in January 2016 and again in July 2017, and each of these requests were followed by affirmative accommodation steps to resolve his complaints. ECF Nos. 42-3, 42-10.

Plaintiff commenced this action on September 16, 2016, with the filing of a Complaint alleging claims for the failure to accommodate his disability and retaliation in the form of reduced overtime hours. With the completion of discovery and upon the filing of Defendant's

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Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff has abandoned his retaliation claim, leaving only his failure to accommodate discrimination claim for resolution. ECF No. 44 at 18.


Summary judgment...

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