The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) did not fail to accommodate an employee experiencing major depression and anxiety disorder when it did not transfer the employee to a position reserved for other employees impacted by postal facility consolidations. Nonetheless, the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Wisconsin allowed the claimant’s retaliation claim to go to trial based on an “array of circumstantial evidence” primarily composed of derogatory e-mails between the employee’s superiors. This “avalanche of e-mails” could lead a jury to conclude the supervisors engaged in unlawful discrimination of the employee’s mental health condition.
The employee worked for USPS from July 1988 until his disability retirement in May 2013. In January 2016, the employee brought four claims against the USPS: failure to accommodate, retaliation, constructive discharge and improper disclosure. The first three claims arose under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination based on a disability in programs conducted by federal agencies, in programs receiving federal financial assistance, in federal employment and in the employment practices of general contractors. The last claim was brought pursuant to the Privacy Act of 1974 and dismissed on summary judgment for failure to claim special damages.
The employee was diagnosed with major depression and anxiety disorder in 2001, but it wasn’t until his symptoms worsened in 2010 that he took two separate Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leaves from his workplace in Madison, Wis. The employee asked his USPS supervisors for a less stressful position. In October 2011, the worker accepted a voluntarily demotion to the role of supervisor of customer service at the Franklin, Wis., post office, which was an 80-mile daily commute to and from home. While the job was less stressful, the commute worsened the employee’s depression.
Without providing any new medical documentation or a doctor’s note indicating a need to work closer to home, in January 2012 the employee asked to be transferred back to one of several non-posted supervisor positions in the Madison post office as “a way to accommodate his depression.” However, the vacant positions were being held open for other USPS employees impacted by a facility closure. Because the employee was not part of the office consolidation, his request for transfer was denied.