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Morris v. Rumsfeld

August 22, 2005

WILLIAM D. MORRIS
v.
DONALD H. RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, APPELLANT



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. D.C. Civil Action No. 01-cv-01729. (Honorable Christopher C. Conner).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pollak, District Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued May 9, 2005

Before: SLOVITER and FISHER, Circuit Judges, and POLLAK,*fn1 District Judge.

OPINION

This appeal arises out of efforts by appellee William D. Morris ("Morris"), a former employee of the federal Defense Logistics Agency ("DLA"), to recover damages for alleged disability discrimination in the workplace. Morris obtained a favorable award from the EEOC, after extensive administrative proceedings, but now seeks to recover increased compensatory damages in this federal action under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c). We must decide whether, in that context, the District Court may properly accept the EEOC's finding of liability as binding, while providing a de novo trial as to the amount of damages -- that figure having been determined not by the EEOC, but by the DLA. For the reasons stated herein, we find such a partial de novo trial inappropriate.

I.

At the time this dispute arose, Morris worked for the DLA, an agency of the United States Department of Defense, as a warehouse fork-lift operator.*fn2 Morris is disabled due to arthritis, degenerative disc disease, and hypertension. In January and February of 1992, Morris gave the DLA letters from his doctor stating that Morris needed reasonable accommodation of his disability, and should be permanently reassigned to an office job. On February 27, 1992, a DLA doctor confirmed this need for reassignment.

Despite the doctors' recommendations, Morris was not reassigned, but remained at work in his warehouse position. On April 11, 1992, he injured his back in the course of his duties there. Morris was unable to work or care for himself for roughly two months after the injury, and he continues to suffer from its effects.

Morris filed a complaint with the EEOC on August 25, 1992. On November 27, 1995, after a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") at the EEOC issued a recommended decision. The ALJ found that Morris was a "qualified individual with a disability" and that the DLA had "intentionally discriminated" against him between February 27, 1992, and April 11, 1992, by failing, in spite of his repeated requests, to make any attempt to accommodate his medical restrictions. The ALJ found that the DLA had not discriminated against Morris after April 11, 1992. She recommended, among other remedies, that the DLA provide compensatory damages to Morris for his injury.

On February 5, 1996, the DLA issued a decision that rejected the ALJ's recommended finding of discrimination before April 11, 1992, but accepted her finding of no discrimination after that date. Morris appealed this finding of no discrimination to the EEOC.

In October 1998, the EEOC issued a decision restoring the ALJ's recommended finding that the DLA had discriminated against Morris between February 27 and April 11, 1992. The EEOC awarded some relief directly, but remanded the matter to the DLA for a determination of the appropriate compensatory damages amount. The DLA sought reconsideration of the EEOC's liability decision, which the EEOC denied in September 2000.

In June 2001, the DLA issued a decision awarding Morris compensatory damages of $12,500.00 for his April 1992 injury. This decision could have been appealed either to the EEOC or to a federal district court.

Morris did not appeal the DLA's compensatory damages decision to the EEOC. Instead, he filed this action in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, seeking a jury trial to determine the amount of compensatory damages that he should receive. The DLA has paid the $12,500 that it determined was due to Morris, and complied with the ...


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