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Firing Postal Police Officer for Sleeping on Job After Making EEO Complaints, Retaliatory

In Anderson v. Postmaster General, the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) fired Dipping Anderson, a postal service police officer (“PPO”), for allegedly sleeping on the job.  Ms. Anderson sued the USPS, claiming that USPS had retaliated against her for having filed previous complaints with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).   After a seven-day bench trial, the district court concluded that Ms. Anderson was not discriminated against but the decision to terminate her employment, rather than impose lesser discipline, was in retaliation for her EEO complaints.  USPS appealed to the First Circuit, seeking to reverse the district court’s decision.

Ms. Anderson worked for USPS for eighteen years and, for the first sixteen years, was never disciplined.  In 2011, Ms. Anderson took time off work for a work-related ankle injury.  In May 2011, when Ms. Anderson reported back to work with her doctor’s permission, her supervisor refused to allow her to work for no apparent reason.  Ms. Anderson ultimately returned to her post and requested pre-complaint counseling, in which she alleged race discrimination.  In June 2011, Ms. Anderson attended an EEO conference with her superiors.  The conference, however, did little to resolve any issues between them, because in 2012, Ms. Anderson made several more requests for pre-complaint EEO counseling.  One of Ms. Anderson’s superiors was so angry that she had made complaints of discrimination, that he told a co-worker, “I want her gone. I want her gone before I retire.”

Finally, on June 12, 2013, USPS suspended Ms. Anderson without pay for sleeping on the job.  Even though Ms. Anderson denied sleeping on duty and USPS’s investigation made no factual finding of the incident, on September 9, 2013, USPS terminated her employment.  In the end, the Court credited Ms. Anderson’s version of events, for there was evidence showing that Ms. Anderson was using her cell phone during the time in question.

On December 14, 2018, the First Circuit reviewed the case and affirmed the lower court’s decision, ruling that there was sufficient evidence for the lower court to find USPS liable for retaliation.  First, the postal service management had a retaliatory motive in choosing to terminate Ms. Anderson instead of imposing a lesser punishment, as Ms. Anderson made several complaints against her superiors for race discrimination.  Second, there was evidence presented that sleeping on the job was not taken seriously at the Boston postal police force; no witness could recall a Boston police officer ever being terminated for sleeping.  Further, terminating a PPO was extremely rare—only five PPOs across America in the past three years have been terminated.  Finally, the termination was made against a backdrop of hostile interactions between Ms. Anderson and USPS management.

If you feel that your employer has retaliated against you for reporting discrimination or for participating in protected activity, contact The Harman Firm LLP.

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