371 F.Supp.2d 159 (2005) | Cited 7 times | D. Connecticut | June 7, 2005


Plaintiff Joseph Mathirampuzha filed this employmentdiscrimination action against the United States Postal Service("USPS"), Postmaster General John Potter, and USPS supervisor RonSacco. See Am. Compl. [Doc. # 17] at ¶¶ 4-6. The two-countamended complaint alleges violations of Title VII of the CivilRights Act of 1964 as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., andthe Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act ("CFEPA"), Conn.Gen. Stat. § 46a-60. Now before the Court is defendants' motion[Doc. # 20] to dismiss the CFEPA claim, to dismiss Ron Sacco as aparty, and to strike the plaintiff's prayer for punitive damages.For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion will be granted.

I. Factual Background

The amended complaint alleges the following facts, which arepresumed to be true for purposes of deciding this motion todismiss. See Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73(1984), Allen v. Westpoint-Pepperell, Inc., 945 F.2d 40, 44 (2dCir. 1991).

The plaintiff has worked for USPS since 1997. Am. Compl. ¶ 6.On September 29, 2003 he "was working a non-scheduled day onovertime in the flatsorter operation," as instructed by theManager of District Operations. At approximately 11:30 p.m.,another supervisor instructed plaintiff "to check for `120 mail'in the FSM100 area." Id. at ¶ 7. Defendant Sacco, "who wasstanding approximately four . . . feet away, began pointing hisfinger at him and yelling, `Joe, where are you going ?!'" Id.When plaintiff responded that he had been instructed to go pickup "120 mail," Sacco yelled, "You are not going to go!" Id. at¶ 8. Sacco approached the plaintiff "and began standing so closeto him that the plaintiff was forced to grab the railing behindhim in an effort to brace himself against falling to the floor."Id. at ¶ 9. Sacco then hit plaintiff on his left shoulder andpinned him against the railing. Id.

Plaintiff alleges that Sacco "has verbally harassed" him sinceOctober 1999, creating a hostile work environment. The plaintiffclaims that Sacco's harassment was motivated by the plaintiff's"Indian ethnicity." Id. ¶ 18. Plaintiff also claims that hesuffered retaliation for complaining about Sacco's"unprofessional and discriminatory conduct." Id. at ¶ 12.

II. Standard

To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff must set forth "`a short and plain statement of theclaim' that will give the defendant fair notice of what theplaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests."Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957) (quoting Fed.R. Civ.P. 8(a)(2)), see also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A.,534 U.S. 506 (2002). A "complaint should not be dismissed for failure tostate a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiffcan prove no set of facts in support of his claim which wouldentitle him to relief." Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46 (footnoteomitted), see also Jahgory v. NY State Dep't of Educ.,131 F.3d 326, 329 (2d Cir. 1997). "The issue is not whether aplaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant isentitled to offer evidence to support the claims. Indeed it mayappear on the face of the pleadings that a recovery is veryremote and unlikely but that is not the test." Scheuer v.Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974).

III. Discussion

A. CFEPA Claim

The United States Supreme Court held in Brown v. GeneralServices Administration, 425 U.S. 820, 829 (1976), that TitleVII is the "exclusive, pre-emptive administrative and judicialscheme for the redress of federal employment discrimination." TheBrown decision interpreted the Equal Employment Opportunity Actof 1972, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16, which extended Title VII's protections to federal employees, including employees ofthe United States Postal Service. Id. at 826-830. The SupremeCourt held that because the 1972 statute created a comprehensiveadministrative and judicial scheme, the "balance, completeness,and structural integrity" of the statute "are inconsistent with"any other remedies for federal employees. Id. at 832. Thus thepetitioner in that case, an employee of the General ServicesAdministration, was constrained to follow the administrativeexhaustion requirements of Title VII and could not circumventsuch requirements by bringing suit under another federal statute.Id. at 833.

The Second Circuit also has held that Title VII proceduresprovide the exclusive remedy for federal employees assertingemployment discrimination claims. Rivera v. Heyman,157 F.3d 101, 105 (2d Cir. 1998). In Rivera, the plaintiff brought suitagainst the Smithsonian Institution and individual defendants,alleging disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Actand New York State and City Human Rights Law. Id. at 102. Thecourt affirmed dismissal of the non-federal claims because § 501of the Rehabilitation Act provided identical procedures andrelief as Title VII, and thus, under Brown, was plaintiff'sexclusive remedy as a federal employee. Id. at 105.

Courts in other jurisdictions have uniformly held that TitleVII preempts state law employment discrimination claims brought by federal employees.1 This Court similarly has held thatTitle VII preempts CEFPA in actions against the USPS. Colon v. UnitedStates Postal Svce., 95 F. Supp. 2d 85, 88 (D. Conn. 1999)(Arterton, J.); see also Serrano v. Runyon, 1997 WL 718976 at*5 (D. Conn. Aug. 22, 1997) (Squatrito, J.).

Plaintiff's brief, which does not acknowledge Brown or itsprogeny cited above, fails to distinguish between the statutoryprovisions applicable to federal and private employers. Whileplaintiff is correct that "Title VII permits the states to adoptanti-discrimination measures more stringent than its own" under42 U.S.C. § 2000e-7, see Pl. Mot. in Opp. [Doc. # 22] at 4,that provision of Title VII applies to state laws governingprivate employers and not the federal government. The casesplaintiff cites concerning ERISA and the LMRA are inapposite.

Thus the Court holds that Mathirampuzha's CFEPA claim againstthe Postal Service is preempted by Title VII and must bedismissed.

B. Claims Against Ron Sacco and USPS

Under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c), the proper defendant in anemployment discrimination action brought by a federal employee is"the head of the department, agency, or unit." Title42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(a) defines the United States Postal Service as one such "department, agency, or unit." Thus, the proper defendant in aTitle VII case brought by a USPS employee is the PostmasterGeneral. Soto v. United States Postal Service, 905 F.2d 537,539 (1st Cir. 1990) ("In cases brought against the PostalService, the Postmaster General is the only properly nameddefendant. A district court should dismiss claims brought againstall other defendants, including the U.S. Postal Service and thelocal postmaster.") (internal citation omitted); Lamb v. UnitedStates Postal Service, 852 F.2d 845, 846 (5th Cir. 1988) ("wehave unequivocally adopted the rule that the only properdefendant in a Title VII action against the Postal Service is thePostmaster General."); Randall, 2004 WL 439491 at *4(dismissing Title VII claims against various managers ofdistribution operations at a Bronx USPS facility and holding thatPostmaster General was only proper defendant).

Further, as plaintiff acknowledges, the Second Circuit has heldthat Title VII imposes no liability on individuals, includingindividual supervisors. Wrighten v. Glowski, 232 F.3d 119, 120(2d Cir. 2000) (per curiam) ("individuals are not subject toliability under Title VII"); Tomka v. Seiler Corp.,66 F.3d 1295, 1313-17 (2d Cir. 1995), abrogated on other grounds,Burlington Indust., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998) (noindividual liability for mid-level regional managers employed bya private corporation).

In this case, while Ron Sacco's exact position is unclear from the complaint, plaintiff's claims against him and the USPSwill be dismissed, leaving only Postmaster General John Potter asa defendant, because Title VII does not impose individualliability and because the only proper defendant in a Title VIIaction by a USPS employee is the Postmaster General.2

C. Plaintiff's Prayer for Punitive Damages

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(1): A complaining party may recover punitive damages . . . against a respondent (other than a government, government agency or political subdivision) if the complaining party demonstrates that the respondent engaged in a discriminatory practice or discriminatory practices with malice or with reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of an aggrieved individual. (Emphasis added).The USPS is a "government agency" for purposes of the statuteexempting government agencies from punitive damages in Title VIIactions. Robinson v. Runyon, 149 F.3d 507, 516 (6th Cir. 1998);Baker v. Runyon, 114 F.3d 668, 670 (7th Cir. 1997); Boenig v.Potter, No. 3:03CV2275 (CFD), 2005 WL 736822 at *6-7 (D. Conn.Mar. 28, 2005); Ausfeldt v. Runyon, 950 F. Supp. 478, 487-88(N.D.N.Y. 1997); Miller v. Runyon, 932 F. Supp. 276, 277 (M.D.Ala. 1996).

Plaintiff argues that the Postal Service Reorganization Act of 1970, 39 U.S.C. § 401(1), which waived federal immunity andallowed the USPS "to sue and be sued in its official name," leftan "open question as to whether or not the Postal Service now canproperly be considered a government agency and/or politicalsubdivision." Pl. Mot. in Opp. at 9. The Second Circuit hasstated, however, that although "the `sue and be sued' clause inthe Postal Reorganization Act . . . effectively waived sovereignimmunity for the postal service, . . . the waiver does not changethe fact that the party being sued is still the federalgovernment. The postal service is an `independent establishmentof the executive branch of the Government of the United States'.39 U.S.C. § 201." In re Young, 869 F.2d 158, 159 (2d Cir. 1989)(per curiam). Thus, the Court of Appeals held in Young that theright of jury trial in Title VII cases did not apply to actionsagainst the Postal Service, which still was considered agovernment agency. Id.

Based on the same reasoning, other courts uniformly havedetermined that "[a]lthough the Postal Service has a `commerciallike' operation, it functions as part of the federal government"and therefore is not subject to a punitive damages assessmentsunder Title VII. Robinson, 149 F.3d at 516; see also Baker,114 F.3d at 670 ("While [the Sixth Circuit], as well as theSupreme Court, has recognized the quasi-commercial nature of thePostal Service on several prior occasions, . . . neither courthas ever held that the Postal Service is anything other than afederal agency" for punitive damages purposes); Boenig, 2005 WL 736822at *6-7; Matos v. Runyon, No. 3:95cv2012 (AWT), 1998 WL 229839at *5 (D. Conn. Mar. 25, 1998); Ausfeldt,950 F. Supp. at 487-88 (N.D.N.Y. 1997).

Because punitive damages cannot be assessed against the USPS,plaintiff's prayer for punitive damages must be stricken from theamended complaint.

IV. Conclusion

Accordingly, defendants' motion [Doc. #20] is GRANTED.Plaintiff's CFEPA claim (Count Two), his Title VII claim as toSacco and the USPS, and his prayer for punitive damages aredismissed.


1. See Burrows v. Henderson, 7 Fed. Appx. 472, 474 (6thCir. 2001) (unpublished) (holding that Postal Service employeewas preempted from bringing employment discrimination claim underMichigan civil rights statute because Title VII was her exclusiveremedy); Davis v. Runyon, 142 F.3d 433, No. 96-4400, 1998 WL96558 at *5 (6th Cir. Feb. 23, 1998) (unpublished) (holdingPostal Service employee who alleged race discrimination waslimited to Title VII claim and precluded from bringing suit underOhio antidiscrimination law and 42 U.S.C. § 1981); Roland v.Potter, ___ F. Supp. 2d ___, No. CV 103-114, 2005 WL 894708 at*1 (S.D. Ga. Apr. 19, 2005) (state law claim for intentionalinfliction of emotional distress against USPS and individualsupervisor preempted by Title VII); Randall v. Potter, No.01Civ. 2097 (THK), 2004 WL 439491 at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 9, 2004)(dismissing claims against USPS under New York Human Rights Lawas preempted by Title VII); Lawson v. Potter,282 F. Supp. 2d 1089, 1094 (W.D. Mo. 2003) (Title VII preempted employmentdiscrimination claim brought in state court under Missouriantidiscrimination law, and therefore defendant USPS was entitledto remove claim to federal court and "convert" it into a TitleVII action); Marshall v. Nat'l Assoc. of Letter Carriers, Nos.00 Civ. 3167 (LTS), 01 Civ. 3086 (LTS), 2003 WL 223563 at *6(S.D.N.Y. Feb. 3, 2003) (dismissing as preempted by Title VIInumerous federal and state statutory and common law claimsbrought by Postal Service employee pro se); Schroder v.Runyon, 1 F. Supp. 2d 1272, 1279 (D. Kan. 1998), aff'd161 F.3d 18, 1998 WL 694518 at *3 (10th Cir. 1998) (Title VIIpreempted former Postal Service employee's state law claim forretaliatory discharge); Mays v. United States Postal Service,928 F. Supp. 1552, 1562 (M.D. Ala. 1996), aff'd on othergrounds, 122 F.3d 43 (11th Cir. 1997) (Alabama stateconstitutional claims barred on the ground that Title VII is theexclusive judicial remedy for federal employment discrimination);Boyd v. Runyon, No. 94-1557-JTM, 1996 WL 294330 at *4 (D. Kan.May 23, 1996) (Kansas state law discrimination and retaliationclaim preempted by Title VII); Callanan v. Runyon,903 F. Supp. 1285, 1295-96 (D. Minn. 1994), aff'd on other grounds,75 F.3d 1293 (8th Cir. 1996) (action for sex discrimination and reprisalbrought under Minnesota Human Rights Act preempted by Title VII);Pierce v. Casey, Civ. No. 87-5319, 1988 WL 832 at *2 (E.D. Pa.Jan. 4, 1988) (complaint alleging violation of Pennsylvania HumanRelations Act for race and sex discrimination dismissed aspreempted by Title VII). The only case to the contrary is Travis v. Frank,804 F.Supp. 1160, 1163-64 (E.D. Mo. 1992), which held that Title VII did notpreclude a former postal employee's claim against the PostalService under the Missouri Human Rights Act. Travis did notaddress Brown or the distinction between private and federalemployees, and therefore other courts have declined to follow itsreasoning, see Lawson v. Potter, 282 F. Supp. 2d 1089, 1094(W.D. Mo. 2003), as does this Court.

2. On motion of the defendants, the United States wassubstituted by operation of law for defendant Sacco as toplaintiff's state law claims. See Order of Substitution, Oct.29, 2004 [Doc. # 19]. As the CFEPA claim now has been dismissed,and plaintiff's amended complaint does not assert any state tortclaims, the only named defendant in this case should be thePostmaster General.

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