FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
PUERTO RICO [Hon. Salvador E. Casellas, U.S. District Judge]
Escanellas-Rivera, with whom Escanella & Juan, PSC was on
brief, for appellant.
I. Lugo Muñoz, with whom Jaime Sifre Rodriguez and
Sanchez Betances, Sifre & Muñoz Noya, PSC were on
brief, for appellee.
Howard, Chief Judge, Lipez and Thompson, Circuit Judges.
THOMPSON, Circuit Judge.
comes to evaluating summary judgment motions, judges simply
aren't meant to be factfinders. In what should come as a
surprise to no one, then, courts should never be in the
business of granting such motions when the case's
material facts are genuinely disputed by the parties. But for
some of the claims in this employment discrimination lawsuit,
the district court did just that. Though we recognize the
lower court here didn't get it all wrong, it nevertheless
disposed of numerous claims that should have been spared the
summary judgment ax. We therefore affirm in part and reverse
in part the grant of summary judgment below.
Getting Our Factual Bearings
facts of this case (which are not particularly complicated)
are recounted here in the light most favorable to Martina
Rivera-Rivera ("Rivera"), the non-moving party, as
is required when reviewing an order granting summary
judgment. See Del Valle-Santana v. Servicios Legales de
Puerto Rico, Inc., 804 F.3d 127, 128 (1st Cir. 2015).
2006, Rivera was recruited to work for Medina & Medina,
Inc. ("Medina"), a Puerto Rico company owned and
operated by Pepín and Eduardo Medina
("Pepín" and "Eduardo"). Rivera,
who had been interviewed by Medina's general manager,
Lizette Cortés, was ultimately hired to be
Medina's marketing manager. At the time, she was
forty-six years old.
maintained employment at Medina from 2006 until 2013, at
which point she resigned. Initially, Rivera was paid $600 per
week by the company, but, in 2008, she was given a raise so
that she made $700 weekly. In 2009, Rivera received another
wage increase and began to be paid $750 a week from that
point up through 2012. Finally, in 2013, Rivera's pay
increased once more to $800 per week. None of these salary
increases occurred at Rivera's prompting. Additionally,
Rivera received a discretionary "gratification
bonus" from Medina at the end of each year she worked
for the company (with the exception of 2013, apparently due
to the number of absences she racked up that year).
Rivera's time with Medina, she asserts that although she
performed the functions of marketing manager, she also
assumed responsibilities that would otherwise be more
properly classified as duties meant for the company's key
account manager. Indeed, Rivera maintains that she performed
many of the exact same duties held by three particular
individuals who at various times during Rivera's tenure
were employed as Medina's key account manager. These
employees were Jaime Bou ("Bou"), Frank Bravo
("Bravo"), and Wilfredo Santiago
("Santiago"). According to Rivera, these other
individuals--who were all males--made more money than she did
for substantially the same work.
in 2011, Rivera says that she began experiencing harassment
at the hands of her superiors. As she tells it, Eduardo,
Pepín, and Cortés began berating her about her
age on a daily or near-daily basis. Specifically, Rivera
claims the following types of comments permeated her work
environment: (1) she was told that she was
"vieja"--Spanish for old--and, as a result, that
she was "useless" and "worthless"; (2)
she was chastised for supposedly lacking the skills necessary
to adequately fulfill the roles of her job because her age
rendered her "slow"; (3) she was told that given
her age, she should seek social security benefits; and (4)
there were suggestions that because she was perceived as
being too old for the job, she should resign before being
forcibly discharged by the company.
both Eduardo and Pepín yelled, screamed, and made
physically threatening gestures at Rivera, which made her
fearful for her safety. Such aggressive and insulting
behavior was not exhibited toward Rivera's male
August 16, 2013, Rivera went on sick leave as a result of the
stress and depression caused by her working environment.
While on sick leave, Rivera filed a Charge of Discrimination
with the Puerto Rico Department of Labor Antidiscrimination
Unit ("ADU"), as well as a similar charge with the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC")
alleging that she suffered from age, sex, and gender
discrimination. Rivera's lawyer also sent a letter to
Medina on August 21, 2013 informing the company that such
charges had been filed.
returning to work on August 23, 2013, Rivera claims she was
immediately subjected to even more abuse. Not only was she
shouted at as she had been prior to going on sick leave, but
she was directly threatened for the first time with
termination due, specifically, to the discrimination charges
filed with the ADU and EEOC. Such threats occurred daily
until Rivera again went out on sick leave on August 26, 2013.
During this second sick leave, Rivera was seen by a
psychiatrist, Dr. Hector M. Cott Dorta, to whom she
complained of depression based on her working conditions
(including, specifically, her anxiety over Pepín and
Eduardo's alleged screaming). This sick leave lasted
through September 24, 2013.
Rivera again returned to work after her second leave of
absence, her time with the company did not last much longer.
Indeed, because the harassment directed at her did not
dissipate and because she was constantly threatened with
discharge due to the discrimination filings, Rivera
ultimately resigned from the company on November 1, 2013.
This resignation was endorsed by Dr. Cott Dorta, who
concluded that the "abuse and hostile environment in the
workplace . . . produce[d] exacerbation of her symptoms [of
depression]." He thus "recommended that [Rivera
not] continue with [her] current job."
receiving a notice of right to sue from the ADU and EEOC,
Rivera brought this federal lawsuit in December 2013 against
Medina alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq.
("Title VII"), the Age Discrimination in Employment
Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621, et seq.
("ADEA"), as well as supplemental claims brought
pursuant to Puerto Rico law. These claims charged
discrimination based on age (due to the supposed differential
in pay between Rivera and her younger male colleagues),
hostile work environment (due to age and gender), and
March 27, 2015, Medina moved for summary judgment on all
claims against it. And almost two years later, the district
court granted that motion, concluding that Rivera's
claims of substantive discrimination, hostile work
environment, and retaliation had to be thrown out. In its
ruling, the court first did away with Rivera's
discrimination claim based on disparate wages, concluding
that she had failed to actually produce any evidence
whatsoever that showed any inequity in pay existed between
her and similarly situated male colleagues.
in siding with Medina on the age and gender-based hostile
work environment claims, the lower court made much ado about
the particular evidence Rivera had presented, concluding that
the record failed to provide the level of specificity
necessary to back up her causes of action. The district court
explained that Rivera (whose opposition to summary judgment
on these claims rested exclusively on statements contained in
her own "self-serving"--the district court's
words, not ours--affidavit) did not "provid[e] specific
factual information made on the basis of personal
knowledge" that would allow for her hostile work
environment claims to move onward to trial. Rivera-Rivera
v. Medina & Medina, Inc., 229 F.Supp.3d 117, 125
(D.P.R. 2017) (quoting Velázquez-García v.
Horizon Lines Of P.R., Inc., 473 F.3d 11, 17-18 (1st
Cir. 2007)). The court suggested that Rivera's affidavit
did nothing more than repeat "conclusory
allegations" otherwise found in the complaint,
Rivera-Rivera, 229 F.Supp.3d at 121, and that she
failed to "provid[e] context, specific dates, the
precise words used, or nam[e] the specific [people] involved
in each instance" of allegedly discriminatory and
harassing behavior, id. at 125. The court also
explained that to the extent the derogatory, age-based
comments Rivera's supervisors allegedly made toward her
(i.e. calling her "vieja," "worthless,"
"slow," etc.) were truly hurled at Rivera, such
language was "too mild to form the basis of a hostile
work environment claim." Id. (quoting
Villegas-Reyes v. Universidad Interamericana de
P.R., 476 F.Supp.2d 84, 91 (D.P.R. 2007)).
court then ruled that Rivera's retaliation claim was
similarly doomed. Like the hostile work environment cause of
action, Rivera's only piece of evidence presented to
support her claim of retaliation was her sworn declaration.
And just as the court had determined that the declaration was
deficient for lack of specificity in the hostile work
environment context, so too did it conclude that it could not
be used to adequately support her charge of retaliation.
the district judge exercised supplemental jurisdiction over
Rivera's various claims sounding in Puerto Rico law and,
determining that the requisite elements of each were more or
less coterminous with their federal counterparts, dismissed
them for the same reasons outlined above.
timely appealed and now it is our turn to take a crack at
Standard of Review
review a district court's grant of summary judgment de
novo. Johnson v. Univ. of P.R., 714 F.3d 48, 52 (1st
Cir. 2013). In doing so, we must keep in mind that granting
summary judgment is only proper when "there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Ameen v.
Amphenol Printed Circuits, Inc., 777 F.3d 63, 68 (1st
Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). "Facts are material when
they have the 'potential to affect the outcome of the
suit under the applicable law.'" Cherkaoui v.
City of Quincy, 877 F.3d 14, 23 (1st Cir. 2017) (quoting
Sánchez v. Alvarado, 101 F.3d 223, 227 (1st
Cir. 1996)). And "[a] dispute is 'genuine' if
'the evidence about the fact is such that a reasonable
jury could resolve the point in the favor of the non-moving
party,' [here, Rivera]." Id. at 23-24
(citation omitted). Where a genuine dispute of material facts
exists, such a dispute must "be resolved by a trier of
fact," not by a court on summary judgment. Kelley v.
LaForce, 288 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2002). We do note,
however, that while we resolve all reasonable inferences in
favor of Rivera, we must nevertheless "ignore
'conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and