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Ivey v. Brennan

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

August 23, 2018




         BEFORE THE COURT is the [27] Motion to Dismiss, or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the defendants, Megan J. Brennan, Postmaster General, and United States Postal Service, in this sexual harassment lawsuit. The plaintiff, Melissa Ivey, filed a response in opposition to the Motion, and the defendants filed a reply. After reviewing the submissions of the parties, the record in this matter, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the defendants' Motion to Dismiss filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) should be denied, because the defendants do not have sovereign immunity in this Title VII lawsuit. However, the Court finds that the defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment should be granted, because the alleged harassment was not sufficiently severe or pervasive and Ivey has insufficient evidence to show that the defendants retaliated against her.


         At the time of the incidents that led to the filing of this lawsuit, Ivey worked as a part-time rural carrier associate for the United States Postal Service in Moss Point, Mississippi.[1] Rural carrier associates serve as substitutes for full-time carriers who are off from work. Her “first-line, ” or immediate, supervisor was Joe Brown. Her “second-line” supervisor was Shane Hodges. Therefore, Hodges served as Brown's supervisor, and Brown served as Ivey's supervisor. Ivey claims that, beginning in March 2012, Hodges began making comments about Ivey and Brown. Ivey explained during her deposition that Hodges would say, “Joe Brown sure likes him some Melissa Ivey. Joe Brown sure does want some Melissa Ivey. He wants you as his lover.” (Defs.' Mot., Ex. 1 at 41.) Hodges also allegedly said, “Joe Brown sure does like them Ivey women. He wants Melissa Ivey. He likes Melissa Ivey.” (Id. at 42.) She testified that Hodges made the comments “too many times to count.” (Id. at 35.) She believes he made the comments more than ten times over a period of weeks. Ivey thought Hodges was serious when he made the comments. She reported Hodges' alleged comments to Brown on one occasion, and he acted surprised. She felt it was too humiliating to speak with Brown about the comments again.[2]

         In May 2012, Ivey told her co-worker Dennis Hebert that Brown had asked another co-worker to help Ivey because Ivey was unfamiliar with her route. Hebert began screaming, acting aggressive, and using profanity. He threatened Ivey that if he ever became the branch's supervisor he would make sure that substitute rural carriers do their job. He also called Ivey “a damn whiner” and threatened to get rid of her. (Id. at 68.) He repeatedly asked her, “Who are you f***ing, that you don't have to do no work around here?” (Id. at 77-78.) Ivey immediately reported the incident to Hodges and Brown, who reassured Ivey and immediately called Hebert into the office. Hebert was reprimanded, but he was not reassigned. Ivey claims that Hebert called her and apologized, but he continued to treat her badly. She testified that Hebert's subsequent comments were not sexual in nature.

         Ivey filed this lawsuit against the Postmaster General and USPS, alleging a sexual harassment-based claim of hostile work environment and retaliation. The defendants filed the present Motion to Dismiss, asserting sovereign immunity, or in the alternative Motion for Summary Judgment based on the merits.



         The defendants argue that they are entitled to sovereign immunity, because Ivey's Complaint alleges that this Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and 39 U.S.C. § 403(c). The defendants assert that the federal government is immune from lawsuits based on the statutes enumerated by Ivey in her Complaint. Ivey's Complaint also states, “The Plaintiff will further show that she has exhausted her administrative remedies as required and she made a timely filing of this change [sic] before the United States Postal Service Equal Employment Opportunity and the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission.” (Compl. 2, ECF No. 1.)

         “When considering a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, a district court may consider: ‘(1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.'” United States v. Renda Marine, Inc., 667 F.3d 651, 654 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Rodriguez v. Christus Spohn Health Sys. Corp., 628 F.3d 731, 734 (5th Cir. 2010)). Federal courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits filed against the United States and its agencies only to the extent that sovereign immunity has been waived. See FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994). “A waiver of sovereign immunity cannot be implied, but must be unequivocally expressed.” Shanbaum v. United States, 32 F.3d 180, 182 (5th Cir. 1994). “28 U.S.C. § 1331 is a general jurisdiction statute and does not provide a general waiver of sovereign immunity.” Id.

         39 U.S.C. § 403(c) provides, “In providing services and in establishing classifications, rates, and fees under this title, the Postal Service shall not, except as specifically authorized in this title, make any undue or unreasonable discrimination among users of the mails, nor shall it grant any undue or unreasonable preferences to any such user.” Therefore, this statute, by its plain language, does not apply to employment discrimination.

         The Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, “entitles an injured person to money damages if a state official violates his or her constitutional rights.” Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S.Ct. 1843, 1854 (2017). It does not provide relief for constitutional violations committed by federal officials. See Id. Furthermore, “[T]itle VII provides the exclusive remedy for employment discrimination claims raised by federal employees.” Jackson v. Widnall, 99 F.3d 710, 716 (5th Cir. 1996). The federal government has waived sovereign immunity as to Title VII claims. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c). As a result, this Court must determine whether Ivey's claims could be construed as Title VII claims.

         “Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a pleading, or pretrial order, need not specify in exact detail every possible theory of recovery - it must only give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Thrift v. Estate of Hubbard, 44 F.3d 348, 356 (5th Cir. 1995). Thus, “[a]ll the Rules require is a short and plain statement of the claim that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” In re Burzynski, 989 F.2d 733, 738 (5th Cir. 1993); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a).

         Ivey's Complaint states that she exhausted her remedies pursuant to the EEOC, and she seeks “reasonable attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq. [sic], as amended . . . .” (Compl. 4, ECF No. 1). The Court assumes that the reference to “42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq.” is a typographical error, and that Ivey intended to seek attorney's fees pursuant to Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. The Court finds that Ivey's Complaint contained sufficient information to put the defendants on notice that she is pursuing relief pursuant to Title VII. As explained ...

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