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Villaflor v. U.S. Postal Service

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

May 21, 2018





         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Megan Brennan's Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. #30. Plaintiff Ernesto Villaflor opposes this Motion. Dkt. #35. For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion and DISMISSES this case.


         Plaintiff Ernesto Villaflor is currently employed as a mail handler of the United States Postal Service in Seattle, a position he has held for over 17 years. See Dkt. #31-1 (“Villaflor Dep.”) at 9:24-10:10. Mr. Villaflor is male, over 60 years of age, and of Filipino and Puerto Rican descent. See Dkt. #1 at ¶ 20. He has a shoulder injury necessitating modified duty status. See Dkt. #8 at ¶ 44.

         On November 13, 2013, there was an incident between Mr. Villaflor and his supervisor, Yun Hee Lee. See Villaflor Dep. at 67:16-69:8. Mr. Villaflor states that while he was talking with a coworker, Ms. Lee came up and confronted him about interfering with a postal machine using a postal sticker to cover up a sensor. Id. Mr. Villaflor testified in deposition that Ms. Lee “slapped the sticker on my face, ” and when Mr. Villaflor removed the sticker, “she snapped it from my hand and did it a second time.” Id. Lee has denied that she deliberately touched his face with the sticker, but does not deny that the interaction took place, that she raised her voice, and that through the confrontation, the sticker stuck to his forehead. Dkt #33 (“Lee Decl.”), ¶2; Dkt. #33-1 at 2.

         The same day as the incident, Mr. Villaflor reported it to Lee's supervisor, Manager Distribution Operation (“MDO”) Julio Rodriguez. Villaflor Dep. at 38:8-12 and 39:25-40:5. According to Mr. Villaflor, Julio Rodriguez allegedly stated something to the effect of, “[d]on't tell me you haven't been slapped by a woman before.” Id. at 83:4-6. Rodriguez called both Plaintiff Villaflor and Lee into his office to learn from each of them what had happened. Id. at 39:2-41:7. Plaintiff Villaflor told Rodriguez that there had been witnesses to the incident, and Rodriguez reviewed witness statements. See id. 41:8-42:18.

         Plaintiff Villaflor testified in deposition that after work he went to “Naval Hospital emergency” because of continuing pain. Id. at 69:14-21. He was told to put ice on his face because he had a bruise and was also given Tylenol. Id. at 69:22-25. Mr. Villaflor took three or four days of leave. Id. at 24:19-23. Also of note, the record shows that from October 2014 through June 2015 Mr. Villaflor went to a social worker with a background in psychological counselling to deal with work-related stress. See id. at 55:22-57:2.

         Mr. Rodriguez instructed both Plaintiff Villaflor and Lee to have no further contact with each other. See Lee Decl. at ¶ 6; Villaflor Dep. at 176:18-25. Rodriguez removed Mr. Villaflor from Lee's supervision. See Lee Decl., ¶ 1; Villaflor Dep. at 43:10-17. According to Mr. Villaflor, he was still occasionally required to send schedule changes to Lee. Id. at 44:15-18.

         Mr. Villaflor later spoke with the Postal Service's Human Resources Department. See Id. at 84:12-85:9. Human Resources contacted the Postal Inspectors, and within two days of the incident, Postal Inspector Michelle Brooks interviewed Mr. Villaflor. See id. at 85:19-25. Inspector Brooks conducted an investigation based on the allegations. Id. at 88:14-19.

         One month later, Plaintiff Villaflor initiated the EEO process on December 16, 2013. Dkt. #31-2.

         On January 2, 2014, a coworker named Sylvia Woods provided a statement to Inspector Brooks. This statement indicated that Ms. Lee, speaking with Ms. Woods, stated that Mr. Villaflor “is no good and all the supervisors are watching him.” Dkt. #36-3 at 2.

         Postal Inspector Brooks issued an Investigative Memorandum dated February 24, 2014, in which she recommended that: “Postal Management should follow up with all parties and witnesses to determine if action is necessary.” Dkt. #33-2 at 6.

         On March 14, 2014, Rodriguez talked to Lee a second time about the incident and conducted an investigative interview of Lee. Dkt. #33-3. One week later, on March 21, 2014, MDO Rodriguez then issued Lee a Letter of Warning and also instructed Lee to undergo anger management training. Dkt. #33-4. In her Letter of Warning, Lee was told that: “This letter is also to inform you that you must refrain from the type of behavior listed in the charge above. Failure to correct these ...

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