A Vietnam War-era veteran and Postal Supervisor suffered from service-connected Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) and depression. He was a supervisor at the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) for 16 years until he was assaulted by his supervisor in 1998.
Thereafter, he tumbled into a long period of Major Depression and PTSD symptoms. In August and September 2001, his treating psychologist notified USPS that he was cleared to return to work under certain restrictions.
When asked to comment specifically, his psychologist responded that Mr. Ziegler’s current impairment had no significant impact on his major life activities. USPS determined that Mr. Ziegler was not “disabled” under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 791, et seq., and needed no accommodation. The Veteran’s Administration (“VA”), however, had found Mr. Ziegler to be a “disabled” veteran.
Can one be disabled within the meaning of one statute and not another? The simple answer is “yes” and Mr. Ziegler’s psychologist declared him not disabled within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act. Summary judgment, in part, must be granted to USPS. The claim of discrimination based on disability will be dismissed as well as Mr. Ziegler’s claim that USPS failed to accommodate his disability. The entirely separate claim of retaliation based on prior protected activity, however, will not be dismissed.
Mr. Ziegler alleges that he was assaulted by his supervisor in 1998 and that the incident was poorly handled by the USPS. He suffered from depression and hypertension resulting from work stress. He took a short period of leave in 1998 to obtain medical treatment and eventually took a long unpaid medical leave starting in February 2000. .
In March of that year, his physician notified the USPS that Mr. Ziegler’s’s “long history and recurrent symptomology” of depression going back to 1995 was consistent with chronic Major Depression, which he described as “chronic, recurrent.” A July 2000 letter from his psychiatrist notified USPS that his Major Depression was “severe enough to interfere with his social, occupational, and familial functioning” and that he would “benefit from medical disability.”
Despite these letters to the USPS Health Unit, Mr. Ziegler’s supervisors terminated him in October 2000 for being Absent Without Leave (“AWOL”). As he appealed
his termination, his doctor notified USPS that Mr. Ziegler also suffered from PTSD, that his symptoms were “quite severe,” and that everyday incidents “tend[ed] to trigger post traumatic
On March 15, 2002, the USPS Reasonable Accommodation Committee sent Mr. Ziegler a memorandum that incorrectly stated that the Committee had recently met with Mr. Ziegler; in fact, no meeting had taken place. The memo stated that the Committee had determined that no reasonable accommodation was required because “available medical records failed to establish that [Mr. Ziegler was] disabled in accordance with the Rehabilitation Act.” The Committee’s decision was based solely on the therapist’s September 27, 2001, cover letter, as the members of the Committee received no other documentation concerning hids status.
The fundamental question is whether Mr. Ziegler was discriminated against, or retaliated against, when his request for a reasonable accommodation was denied on March 22, 2002. The USPS responds that he was not a disabled person at that point and, therefore, was not entitled to any accommodation. USPS Zieglers not address whether he was perceived as having a disability or whether he was retaliated against based on prior EEO activity.
“The Court is not persuaded by the USPS’s causation argument, given the record before it. Mr. Ziegler took unpaid leave because of a mental disability in 2000 and his supervisors, in an arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable manner, discharged him as AWOL. When he applied, through his therapist, for a reasonable accommodation in August-September 2001, only the last letter from his therapist was forwarded to the Reasonable Accommodation Committee. Even the last letter identified a potential disability, despite the last statement in the letter. USPS argues that Mr. Ziegler’s prior protected activity was his appeal of his discharge. Not so. His prior protected activity was the repeated request, in August – September 2001, for a return to work with certain accommodations. That activity was certainly timely to support an inference of causation.”
“It is clear that the Reasonable Accommodation Committee did not receive full information concerning Mr. Ziegler’s mental health. As a simple for instance, there is no indication that the Committee received or reviewed the Medical Restrictions Assessment Form, much less his therapist’s repeated letters in August and September 2001. The September 11 letter (its date might explain the tardy response) was the fourth time that the therapist tried to obtain a return-to-work plan for Mr. Ziegler, who still experienced PTSD symptoms on occasion, in order to keep him away from the location and person involved in the 1998 attack. The USPS Zieglers not shine in its response to Mr. Ziegler’s situation, from its onset to the present. On this record, most especially since the USPS did not analyze Mr. Ziegler’s Complaint allegations of retaliation based on current law, the Court cannot say that Mr. Ziegler’s did not suffer retaliation when his request for an accommodation
“The motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part. The motion will be granted as to the claims for disability discrimination and disability harassment based on the failure to approve accommodations for Mr. Ziegler in March 2002. The motion will be denied as to the claim for retaliation based on the same action.