Arkansas mail handler disciplined after taking a knee at stand-up talk loses in court

A Black Arkansas mail handler who “took a knee” during a stand up talk has lost his discrimination suit in federal court after the judge found he had not substantiated his claims.

The incident began on September 28, 2017 when Charles Raynor, a mail handler since 1988, when Raynor’s white supervisor, Mike Estright, found Raynor in the breakroom with other employees, and “yelled at him to get out of the breakroom and out on the floor”.

Raynor told Estright not to yell at him, pointing out the fact that other employees were also there. Estright told Raynor “shut up and don’t open your mouth, you are walking on thin ice with me anyway,” and said he would put Raynor off the clock and fire him if he didn’t shut up. Later that afternoon, Raynor reported the incident as a personal threat. He was told that while the comments were unprofessional, they were not threatening.

The next day, Estright was conducting a stand-up talk, to review some operational matters. During the talk, Raynor knelt on the ground and raised his fist “in silent protest over his continued wrongful treatment and remarks demeaning black people.”

After the stand-up talk, Estright approached Raynor and asked him to come to his office. In the office, Estright advised Raynor that the meeting was an “official discussion.”

Estright told Raynor his actions during the stand-up talk were inappropriate. The discussion escalated to the point that Estright told him that he was “off the clock” and should leave the building. When Raynor refused to leave, Estright told him he would call the police to remove him from the building. Little Rock Police and a U.S. Postal Inspector were called to escort Raynor from the building. However, he had already left the facility by the time they arrived.

Raynor was informed by the Postal Inspector that he had been placed on emergency placement, an off-duty status pending further investigation of the incident. The USPS sent Raynor a letter dated September 29, 2017, confirming that he was being put on emergency non-pay, off-duty status in accordance with Article 16.7 of the USPS-NPMHU agreement.

As required by the USPS-NPMHU agreement, Raynor was interviewed during the
investigation. Estright alleged that Raynor had threatened him during the official discussion in Estright’s office. Raynor denied the allegations.

After the interview, Raynor was returned to paid duty status. Plaintiff immediately took medical leave stating that he was medically unable to work. He was placed on medical leave by the USPS on October 24, 2017.

Raynor filed a grievance through the union regarding his time on emergency placement. The parties settled the dispute, and USPS agreed to pay him for ninety-six hours of back pay. The parties agreed that this was in full settlement of Plaintiff’s claims related to his emergency placement.

After being placed on medical leave on October 24, 2017, Raynor never reported to work again- he submitted an application for full retirement, effective October 31, 2018.

Raynor earlier this year filed a lawsuit against the USPS alleging that he was discriminated against based upon his race, age, and sex, and retaliated against for engaging in protected activity while he was employed by the United States Postal Service.”

The protected activity referred to was the knee incident.

District Court Judge James M. Moody Jr., an Obama appointee, ruled in favor of the US Postal Service’s request for summary judgement in the case, finding that:

Plaintiff has not provided evidence of pretext. He has not shown that his protest was the reason he was placed on leave. In fact, Plaintiff admits that Estright informed him that the meeting was an “official discussion” under the NPHMU which is not a disciplinary meeting. The disciplinary action, being placed on leave, occurred after the discussion became contentious.

There is no dispute that the meeting escalated to the point that Estright asked Plaintiff to leave and he refused. The Court finds that Plaintiff has not provided any evidence, aside from his own affidavit, that the hostile nature of the official discussion in Estright’s office was merely a pretext for Plaintiff being placed on unpaid leave.