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Gilbert v. Donahoe

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

April 30, 2014

SANDRA KAY GILBERT, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
PATRICK R. DONAHOE, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service, Defendant-Appellee

Petition for certiorari filed at, 07/29/2014

Page 304

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

For Sandra Kay Gilbert, Plaintiff - Appellant: Rebecca L. Fisher, Rebecca L. Fisher & Associates, Waco, TX.

For PATRICK R. DONAHOE, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service, Defendant - Appellee: Robert Austin Wells, U.S. Attorney's Office, Tyler, TX.

Before REAVLEY, PRADO, and OWEN, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 305

PRISCILLA R. OWEN, Circuit Judge:

Sandra Kay Gilbert appeals the district court's dismissal of her complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We conclude that the collective bargaining agreement between the union of which Gilbert was a member and the United States Postal Service did not clearly and unmistakably require Gilbert to resolve claims arising under the Family and Medical Leave Act through arbitration. However, we agree with the district court that the agreement's incorporation of the Rehabilitation Act was sufficiently clear and unmistakable to waive Gilbert's right to bring claims under that statute in federal court. We further conclude that Gilbert no longer has standing to seek injunctive relief, since she has retired. Accordingly, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

I

Plaintiff Sandra Kay Gilbert is a former employee of the United States Postal Service (USPS), and this case arises out of events that occurred during her employment. Following a " due process" interview regarding her practice of taking leave during USPS's busy seasons, Gilbert initiated an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint, alleging that the interview constituted age and disability discrimination. Shortly thereafter, Gilbert sought paid sick leave in order to care for her husband (the first leave request). USPS temporarily denied Gilbert's claim. Although she was eventually granted paid leave, Gilbert filed an internal grievance with USPS according to the terms set forth in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the American Postal Workers Union (Union) and USPS. She also amended her EEO complaint, claiming that the interview and the temporary denial of paid leave constituted retaliation.

Page 306

USPS's regional postmaster denied Gilbert's grievance, finding that management had acted in accordance with its handbooks and the CBA. USPS's EEO Services Analyst also dismissed Gilbert's complaint on the ground that the allegations of discrimination were moot and that Gilbert had failed to state a claim.

After these decisions were issued, Gilbert filed suit against Patrick R. Donahoe, in his capacity as USPS Postmaster General. Gilbert alleged that USPS interfered with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Concurrently, the Union, acting on Gilbert's behalf, appealed the local postmaster's dismissal of Gilbert's grievance to an arbitrator, in accordance with the procedures in the CBA. Gilbert also appealed the EEO decision to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC dismissed the appeal, however, because Gilbert had filed suit.

Donahoe moved to dismiss Gilbert's lawsuit on the ground that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. Donahoe reasoned that, because the CBA provides that its mandatory grievance procedure is the exclusive method of resolving claims under the FMLA, Gilbert could not bring her claims in federal court. While Donahoe's motion was pending, another leave dispute arose. Gilbert sought paid sick leave for two days and presented a physician's note to her supervisor (the second leave request). Finding the note insufficiently specific under the terms of the CBA, Gilbert's supervisor designated her absence as " leave without pay."

After this incident, Gilbert amended her complaint to add claims under the Rehabilitation Act. Donahoe then filed an amended motion to dismiss, asserting the same jurisdictional arguments as before and additionally contending that Gilbert had failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted. The district court ordered the parties to conduct discovery prior to ruling on Donahoe's motion to dismiss. Following discovery, Donahoe filed another amended motion to dismiss, or alternatively, for summary judgment. This motion offered various grounds for dismissal and summary judgment, but did not re-assert the initial argument that the CBA's grievance procedure deprived the court of subject matter jurisdiction. Nonetheless, the district court issued a Notice of Intent to Dismiss, requesting that the parties brief the issue of whether the CBA precluded subject matter jurisdiction. Following briefing, the district court dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). The court concluded that the CBA contains a mandatory grievance procedure and clearly and unmistakably requires Gilbert to resolve her statutory claims through that procedure.

Shortly after the dismissal, Gilbert retired from USPS. Nonetheless, she timely appealed the court's order. In his brief, Donahoe states that he is " abandon[ing] the specific grounds underlying the [district court's] dismissal." He contends, however, that this court should affirm the dismissal because subject matter jurisdiction is lacking for other reasons, Gilbert has failed to state a claim, and there is no genuine dispute as to a material fact.

II

We have held that a district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a case and should dismiss it pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) when the parties' dispute is ...


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