USPS threatened Postmaster with “life changing” criminal charges after he filed an EEO complaint

10thcirLast month we told you about a USPS maintenance employee who was thrown in jail and labelled a terrorist after he reported a carbon monoxide leak at a postal facility. Now comes another story of apparent retaliation, this time involving Marvin Green, the former Postmaster of Englewood, CO, who was put on leave without pay, and threatened with “life-changing” criminal charges after he was denied a promotion and complained of discrimination. In addition, a court found that a USPS Labor Relations Manager destroyed evidence that might have helped Green’s case.

As a result, Green retired: “Shortly after being put on leave, he signed a settlement agreement with the Postal Service that provided him paid leave for three and a half months, after which he could choose either to retire or to work in a position that paid much less and was about 300 miles away. Ultimately, he decided to retire. He then filed a complaint against Defendant Patrick Donahoe, the Postmaster General, in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, alleging five retaliatory acts in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964”

From last week’s Appeals Court decision:

Green, who describes himself as a black American, began working for the Postal Service in 1973. He was a manager for 25 years, including 14 years as a postmaster.

From 2002 until his retirement in 2010, he was the postmaster at the Englewood, Colorado, post office. At the time of the pertinent events, he had no disciplinary report in his permanent file.

In early 2008 a postmaster position opened in Boulder. Green applied for the position, but his supervisor, Gregory Christ, selected a Hispanic instead. In August 2008, Green filed a formal charge with the Postal Service’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Office, alleging that he had been denied a promotion because of his race. That November, after the EEO Office had completed its investigation, Green requested a hearing before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The matter was settled.

In May 2009, Green filed an informal EEO charge alleging that the Postal Service had begun retaliating against him for his prior EEO activity. He alleged that Christ, his supervisor, had threatened, demeaned, and harassed him. He filed a similar informal charge in July, alleging that Christ and Jarman Smith, who had replaced Christ as Green’s supervisor, had threatened, demeaned, and harassed him because of his race and his EEO activity regarding the Boulder position. In August the Postal Service’s EEO Office completed its investigation of the May and July charges. It informed Green that he could file a formal charge, but he did not do so.

Then things got ugly.

In November 2009, Green received a letter at his home from Charmaine Ehrenshaft, who was the Postal Service’s Manager of Labor Relations for his district.

The letter instructed Green “to appear for an investigative interview regarding allegations of non-compliance in the grievance procedure.” The letter provides no specifics, but Defendant claims that Green was derelict in his handling of employee grievances between April and December of 2009, resulting in multiple adverse decisions that required the Postal Service to pay damages and penalties to grievants.

Green asserts that he and his facility managers had contacted the appropriate person for assistance with the grievances but that the person would not help.

Ehrenshaft and her supervisor, David Knight, the Manager of Human Resources, conducted the investigative interview on December 11, 2009. Green was represented by Robert Podio of the National Association of Postmasters. During the interview Knight asked Green about the processing of grievances, about allegations that he had intentionally delayed the mail by failing to timely sign and return receipts for certified letters related to the grievances, and about allegations that he had sexually harassed a female employee.

When the interview ended, two agents from the Postal Service Office of the Inspector General (OIG) arrived. Knight instructed Green to meet with them. The OIG, an independent branch of the Postal Service, had initiated its own investigation into delay of the mail, which can be a federal crime.

Knight and Ehrenshaft reappeared when the OIG interview ended. They gave Green a letter informing him that under the Postal Service’s emergency-placement policy he was “placed in off-duty status immediately” because of “[d]isruption of day-to-day postal operations.” It stated that under the policy “[t]he employee is returned to duty status when the cause for nonpay status ceases.” Knight ordered Green to surrender his Postal Service identification and cell phone and not to return to the Englewood post office. Unknown to Green, the OIG agents had concluded at the end of the interview that Green had not intentionally delayed the mail. The next day, Podio began negotiating with Knight to resolve the matter. During negotiations Knight e-mailed Podio that the OIG was “all over” the delay-of-mail issue and that “the criminal issue could be a life changer.”

In addition to using agents of the OIG to put pressure on Green, USPS management apparently destroyed evidence that might have helped him: the District Court “found that [Colorado District Manager of Labor Relations Charmaine] Ehrenshaft had in bad faith destroyed records of postal employees charged with misconduct similar to that alleged against Green.”

The district court dismissed Green’s claims, but the tenth circuit Court of Appeals in Denver reinstated the two claims related to unpaid leave, sending the case back to the lower court.