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Department & Division News

EEOC: National Reassessment Program Discriminated Against Injured Workers

(This article first appeared in the July-August issue of The American Postal Worker Magazine)
 
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently ruled that the Postal Service’s National Reassessment Process (NRP) discriminated against injured workers and violated their rights under the Rehabilitation Act.

In McConnell v. the U.S. Postal Service, an Administrative Judge (AJ) found that under the NRP managers:

  • Improperly disclosed medical information. The USPS failed to require redaction of employees’ medical information.
  • Failed to provide reasonable accommodations. Management determined that partial or full-time work was not available and sent employees home or to new assignments.
  • Engaged in disparate treatment against employees who were injured on duty. The USPS marked these workers and sought to compel them to retire.
  • Harassed injured workers and created a hostile work environment.

Background

The Postal Service implemented NRP as a pilot program in 2006 and expanded it nationwide in 2009. All employees who had limitations because of workplace injuries were targeted. NRP protocol required “reassessment” of medical restrictions and job offers. Postal officials then decided if the work being performed was “operationally necessary.”

Sandra McConnell, a Rural Letter Carrier, had an approved OWCP claim and was working in a modified carrier assignment for more than eight years before she was reassessed in 2006 and stripped of her duties. She was told no work was available and ordered to go home.

Many injured APWU members suffered a similar fate.They, too, were told there was no operationally necessary work available to accommodate their medical restrictions. They were ordered to go home or afforded fewer work hours despite previously accepting a medically suitable job offer.

McConnell filed a class-action discrimination complaint under the Rehabilitation Act on behalf of all USPS workers affected by the NRP. The disability discrimination class action was certified by the EEOC Administrative Judge on May 30, 2008. The USPS appealed.

The EEOC rejected Postal Service arguments and affirmed its class certification on Jan.14, 2010. McConnell was designated as the “class agent.” Current and former permanent-rehabilitation and limited-duty postal employees who were subjected to the NRP between May 5, 2006, and July 1, 2011, are part of the class, whether they filed an individual EEOC complaint or not.

Current Status

The lead counsel for the case is emphasizing that the decision does not guarantee class members personal relief. The USPS appealed the decision, stalling the individual claim process, which cannot begin until the appeal process is complete. If the decision is upheld, it could cost the USPS hundreds of millions of dollars if the EEOC justly awards class members on the basis of their actual losses.

We anticipate that the Postal Service will argue employees were not treated improperly or personally harmed by NRP in an effort to limit its looming liability.

There’s no way to forecast how damages will be calculated, but to ready themselves, class members may find it beneficial to itemize the value of their losses and begin gathering supporting documentation. For example, affected workers could document the difference between their postal salary and wage-loss compensation and/or annuity; lost leave; TSP contributions and matching funds; overtime opportunities; creditable service time, and the difference in premiums charged at the federal rate rather than the postal rate for Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) and Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI). A Statement of Benefits can be obtained by writing to OWCP and OPM.

Resources: nrpclassaction.com and pitmanclass.com.