Postmaster A Victim of Customer Stalking Wins MSPB Appeal

From the Merit System Protection Board:

The  EAS-16 Postmaster in Diamond, Ohio, alleged that the USPS placed her on enforced leave due to its failure to reassign her to another post office. The administrative judge gave the Postmaster notice of the burden to establish jurisdiction over an enforced leave claim in two situations, where an agency places an employee on forced leave to inquire into her ability to perform and where an employee who is absent for medical reasons asks to return.

In response, the Postmaster alleged that she notified her supervisor on June 29, 2009, that a customer at the Diamond Post Office was stalking her. The Postmaster further alleged that, on August 14, 2009, the customer attempted to get close to her by staring at her and approaching the post office counter without conducting business.  The Postmaster claimed that the customer then followed her after work to a Home Depot 15 miles away from the Diamond Post Office and sat in his car, moving it to different parking spaces and staring at her before driving away.

Subsequently, after the Postmaster was unable to reach her supervisor by telephone, she sent him an August 17, 2009 e-mail message describing that incident. The appellant did not return to work at the Diamond Post Office after that incident, claiming that because that location is secluded and she was alone there for a major part of each day, she was in genuine fear for her safety.

In order to avoid the stalking customer, the Postmaster claimed that she requested a lateral reassignment or detail until such an assignment was available. The Postmaster provided a December 15, 2009 letter from Psychologist Diedre Petrich, Ph.D., stating that the Postmaster suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of the stalking, that she would benefit from a lateral reassignment, and should not be returned to the Diamond Post Office. The Postmaster argued that her supervisor ignored her reasonable  accommodation request and that USPS’s failure to address the situation forced her to use leave to avoid the resulting hostile work environment

Holdings:  The Board vacated the initial decision and remanded the appeal for a jurisdictional hearing:

1.  An appellant is entitled to a jurisdictional hearing in a constructive suspension appeal based upon intolerable working conditions if the appellant sets forth allegations of fact which, if true, would show that her working conditions were so intolerable that a reasonable person in her position would have felt compelled to absent herself from the workplace.

2.  The appellant has made the requisite factual allegations and is entitled to a jurisdictional hearing on her constructive suspension claim at which she will have the burden of establishing jurisdiction over her appeal.

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