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Rivera v. Brennan

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 31, 2018

CARMEN L. RIVERA, Plaintiff,



         Carmen L. Rivera (“Plaintiff”) filed this lawsuit against the Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service Megan J. Brennan (“Defendant”) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e), et seq. Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 1-4, ECF No. 20.[1] Ms. Rivera alleges that, on account of her gender, she has “suffered a hostile work environment, disparate treatment, and retaliation as a result of her opposing and reporting sexual harassment and discrimination” in the workplace. Id. ¶ 34.

         Defendant now moves for summary judgment, and argues that Ms. Rivera's claims of sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation must be dismissed as a matter of law. ECF No. 27.

         For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.



         Ms. Rivera, a Supervisor of Customer Services at the United States Post Office in Bridgeport, Connecticut, since August 2014, is currently assigned to the Post Office in Wallingford, Connecticut. Def.'s SMF ¶ 1-2. At her request, she has gone from Bridgeport to the Post Office in Stratford (April 2015) and then North Haven (July-October 2015). Id. Since requesting to be transferred from North Haven, Ms. Rivera has been working at Wallingford location since November 2015. Id. Derek Hudson, a Manager of Customer Service for USPS, supervised Ms. Rivera at the Bridgeport Office. Def.'s SMF ¶ 3. Gary Thompson, the Postmaster for the Bridgeport Post Office, supervised Mr. Hudson. Id. ¶ 4.

         1. The January 24, 2015, Meeting

         On January 24, 2015, Mr. Hudson sat at his desk in his office eating his lunch. Id. ¶ 5. While he ate, Mr. Thompson had been with him in his office. Id. When Mr. Thompson left the office, Ms. Rivera entered. Id. ¶ 7. She wanted to meet with Mr. Hudson regarding a postal carrier who reported to Ms. Rivera. Id. ¶ 8. While they were meeting, Mr. Hudson stood up from behind his desk to retrieve a bottle of water from a nearby refrigerator, and Ms. Rivera saw that Mr. Hudson's belt was “open.” Rivera Dep. at 69:1-7, Def.'s SMF, Ex., ECF No.27-3. When he stood up his pants did not fall down, Def.'s SMF ¶ 11, but Ms. Rivera observed that “[h]is button was open because . . . the belt was pushing it like that.” Rivera Dep. at 69:9-11. She could see some “ruffling[] of his shirt” and that “his zipper [was] slightly open.” Id. at 69:11-13. She could not see Mr. Hudson's underwear or anything beneath them. Def.'s SMF ¶ 12. After averting her eyes, Ms. Rivera claims that she heard “the jingling of his belt, ” and assumed he was “correcting himself.” Rivera Dep. at 69:21-70:4.

         Ms. Rivera testified that Mr. Hudson apologized to her and stated “I just finished eating and, you know, the belt was bothering me.” Rivera Dep. at 69:19-21. Ms. Rivera compared Mr. Hudson's “excuse me” to “a man coming out of the bathroom with his zipper down. You know, [an] honest mistake.” Id. 84:23-85:1. The two continued to discuss work matters. Id. at 70:6-7.

         After about ten minutes, Ms. Rivera saw: “[Mr. Hudson] lift[ ] his leg up, his buttocks or whatever, his butt, and just pass[ ] gas, loud, and obnoxious.” Id. at 70:7-10. “[S]hocked, disgusted, ” and “embarrassed, ” Ms. Rivera said to him, “Oh, my god. I don't believe you just did that.” Id. at 70:11-13. Mr. Hudson responded, “Ah, my grandmother said, ‘Better out than in.'” Id. 70:17-18. Again, the two resumed discussing work matters. Id. 70:24-25.

         Shortly thereafter, another supervisor of customer service, Marcia Perkins, joined the meeting with Ms. Rivera and Mr. Hudson. Def.'s SMF ¶ 16. Mr. Hudson again stood up, revealing that his belt and pants remained “open.” Rivera Dep. at 74:20. Speaking to Ms. Perkins, Mr. Hudson said “it's not what you think, ” laughed, and “fix[ed] himself up.” Id. at 74:25-75:2. Although Ms. Perkins and Mr. Hudson continued talking, Ms. Rivera excused herself and left the room. Id. at 75:5-8. Ms. Rivera was “angry, ” “embarrassed, ” Id. at 75:25- 75:1, and “shocked, ” id. at 239:20. Ms. Rivera thought to herself: “What's [Ms. Perkins] going to think?” Id. at 76:2-3; accord 88:13 (“What is she going to think was going on . . . ?”). Ms. Rivera “never” spoke to Ms. Perkins about the incident. Id. at 88:19-20. Ms. Rivera did discuss the incident with her boyfriend Id. at 94:16-95:3.

         Although Ms. Rivera acknowledged feeling embarrassed about the incident, she also acknowledged that, while alone with Mr. Hudson that day, he made no sexual advances or physical contact with Ms. Rivera. Id. at 87:18-88:2. Although Ms. Rivera testified that it was “[v]ery possible” that she described the incident as “sexual” when recounting the incident to her boyfriend, she further testified that “[she] didn't know how to describe what [she] went through.” Id. at 95:17-20.

         2. The January 29, 2015, Meeting

         On January 29, 2015, Ms. Rivera met with Mr. Hudson to discuss the January 24th incident. Id. at 101:3-102:12. She informed him that she “didn't appreciate” what had happened, and that he had acted “very unprofessional.” Id. at 103:3-6. Mr. Hudson asked a “barrage” of questions in what felt to Ms. Rivera like an “interrogat[ion].” Id. at 103:20-24. Ms. Rivera declined Mr. Hudson's requests to follow up with the Human Resources Department (“HR”). Def.'s SMF ¶ 26.

         3. The February 20, 2015, Meeting

         On February 20, 2015, Mr. Hudson convened a meeting with Mr. Rivera, her National Association of Postal Supervisors (“NAPS”) Representative Jeanette Sherrod, and himself. Def.'s SMF ¶ 28. NAPS representatives, according to Ms. Rivera, are “called when there's a problem with management and a supervisor.” Rivera Dep. at 131:23-25.

         Mr. Hudson called the meeting to discuss Ms. Rivera's overall work performance, including her failure to provide a daily Actual to Projections Report (“APR”), id., which sets out the daily projected hours of work for each employee vis-à-vis the daily hours actually worked. Hudson Dep. at 49:14-50:2. Although she had been trained on generating APRs, Def.'s SMF ¶ 36, and she acknowledged that the report had been assigned to other managers, Rivera Dep. at 137:1-25, Ms. Rivera explained that she had “got a lot of stuff . . . to do, ” and does not have the appropriate program to generate the report. Id. at 134:7-9. According to Ms. Rivera, he replied: “I don't care. You have to make time. You have to make time to get this report to me. I want it here every day.” Id. at 134:12-14. According to Ms. Rivera, Mr. Hudson threatened to write her up if she did not get him the report. Id. at 136:8-10. Mr. Hudson, for his part, denies that he ever threatened to or actually disciplined Ms. Rivera. Hudson Dep. at 47:15-48:13. It was also her understanding that this meeting was a pre-disciplinary interview (“PDI”). Rivera Dep. at 149:1- 2. After the meeting, Ms. Rivera provided the report to Mr. Hudson on a daily basis. Def.'s SMF ¶ 33.

         Ms. Rivera testified that Mr. Hudson had been a strict manager, as a general matter, who was “big on PDIs, ” “big on discipline, ” and “big on grievances.” Id. ¶ 37. But she believed that his threat to discipline her was “coming because [she] confronted him and he was not happy about that.” Rivera Dep. at 149:14-16. She felt that Mr. Hudson wanted to discipline her for “trivial stuff.” Id. at 157:15.

         4. The February 23, 2015, Meeting

         On February 23, 2015, Ms. Rivera first reported the January 24th incident to Mr. Thompson and Ms. Sherrod. Def.'s SMF ¶ 38. By that afternoon, a meeting was convened among Mr. Hudson, Mr. Thompson, Ms. Sherrod, and Ms. Rivera. Id. ¶ 40. At the meeting, as Ms. Rivera described it, Mr. Hudson “blew up” and began screaming and yelling. Rivera Dep. at 154:22-24. Ms. Rivera explained to him that she did not feel “comfortable” and that he “crossed the line” in threatening to write her up. Id. at 154:25-155:4.

         Ms. Rivera then informed Mr. Thompson that that she could no long work with Mr. Hudson. Pl.'s SMF ¶ B.12. She further explained to Mr. Thompson: “I don't think I can work here anymore. Somebody's got to go. . . . I don't think that the professional relationship we had before will ever be the same.” Rivera Dep. at 156:18-25.

         As to whether Mr. Hudson discriminated against Ms. Rivera because she was a woman, she testified: “Well, yeah. I mean, because I was a woman, I felt extremely offended and-with everything he did with the pants and everything, that was horrible. Id. at 176:10-15. According to Ms. Rivera, Mr. Hudson did not treat female employees any differently than male employees, Def.'s SMF ¶ 43; she observed: “He was mean to everybody.” Rivera Dep. at 176:16-21.

         5. Human Resources

         Approximately two days after February 23, 2015, meeting, Ms. Rivera wrote an email to the Human Resources Manager. Pl.'s SMF ¶ 13. In it, she reported Mr. Hudson's conduct during the January 24, 2016, meeting and thereafter. Id. Later that day, a representative from Human Resources followed up with Ms. Rivera regarding her email. Human Resources decided to conduct an internal investigation, known as a “Pub 552.” Id. ¶ 14. Ms. Rivera informed the investigators from Human Resources that she felt that Mr. Hudson was retaliating against her because she had confronted him about how his behavior made her feel. Id. ¶ 15.

         6. The Printer/Scanner

         Mr. Hudson kept a second desk on the workroom floor of the post office, which was located at the opposite end of the building on a lower level than his office, near a printer, which also was near Ms. Rivera's desk. Def.'s SMF ¶ 41. Ms. Rivera claims that Mr. Hudson had “never” used the printer before the Human Resources investigation and had a working printer in his office. Rivera Dep. at 177:17-187:22. She described looking up: “[T]here he is. He's a tall man and I'm sitting down. At the printer. No blinking, no nothing. . . . It was the worst face. It had me running every time.” Id. at 179:1-5.

         Ms. Rivera claims she reported Mr. Hudson's use of the printer to Mr. Thompson. Pl.'s SMF ¶ B.19. She reported that she felt intimidated and that “[Mr. Hudson] was doing that on purpose . . . retaliating against me and making me run like a mouse.” Rivera Dep. at 182:7-11. Mr. Thompson allegedly responded to Ms. Rivera that Mr. Hudson, as a manager, was able to use any printer he would like to use. Rivera Dep. at 182:5-6.

         7. The April 9, 2015, Daily Teleconference

         On April 9, 2015, Mr. Hudson requested that all three supervisors, including Ms. Rivera, be prepared to participate in the daily teleconference with Phil Gioia, the Post Office Operations Manager. Def.'s SMF ¶ 42. Ms. Rivera testified that she had previously never been involved in preparing reports for the daily telephone conference. Rivera Dep. at 199:4-5. With another male colleague, Ms. Rivera joined the conference by telephone. Id. at 199:12-18. Mr. Hudson and Dave Carrasquillo, another employee, joined the call from another location. Id. at 199:12- 200:13. On the call, Mr. Hudson allegedly stated that Ms. Rivera and another male employee, neither of whom had been on the call before, id. at 199:19-22, were going to answer the remainder of the questions on the call, id. at 200:16-18.

         Because she did not have the information she needed, Ms. Rivera felt like a “buffoon[].” Id. at 200:23. Ms. Rivera testified that Mr. Carrasquillo later informed her that Mr. Hudson had instructed Mr. Carrasquillo to “be quiet” while on the call. Id. at 201:19. Apparently, it was Ms. Rivera's understanding that it was Carrasquillo who had the “papers” necessary to answer questions on the call. Id. at 201:12-21.

         After the telephone conference, Mr. Thompson convened a meeting with Ms. Rivera and Mr. Hudson. Pl.'s SMF ¶ B.29. Ms. Rivera testified that, in this meeting, she informed Mr. Thompson that she could not work in the office any longer. Id. at 206:13-24. Ms. Rivera claims that she was ...

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