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Rodríguez-Cardi v. MMM Holdings, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

August 26, 2019

CARMEN RODRÍGUEZ-CARDI, Plaintiff, Appellant,
MMM HOLDINGS, INC., Defendant, Appellee.


          Juan R. Dávila-Díaz, with whom Enrique J. Mendoza-Méndez and Mendoza Law Offices were on brief, for appellant.

          Katherine González-Valentín, with whom Patricia M. Marvez-Valiente and Ferraiuoli LLC were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Barron, Circuit Judges.


         Carmen Rodríguez-Cardi ("Rodríguez-Cardi") appeals the district court's order granting MMM Holdings, Inc.'s ("MMM") motion for summary judgment on her Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") claim regarding the termination of her employment. The district court determined that the record was devoid of any evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that MMM's articulated reason for terminating Rodríguez-Cardi's employment was pretextual, let alone a pretext for age discrimination. After careful consideration, we affirm.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         On October 16, 2012, Rodríguez-Cardi began working with TEAMS LLC as an Independent Promoter for MMM, which "operates a [highly regulated] health insurance plan designed [for] beneficiaries of Medicare Advantage." During her tenure as an Independent Promoter, Rodríguez-Cardi regularly performed several tasks for MMM, including generating "valid leads . . . through authorized marketing activities," while adhering to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services ("CMS") and MMM policies, procedures, and rules. MMM Supervisor Roberto Rodríguez-Delgado ("Rodríguez-Delgado"), who oversaw Rodríguez-Cardi's work during this period, and MMM Sales Manager Brenda Real ("Real") eventually approached Rodríguez-Cardi and encouraged her to apply for a sales position at MMM. After interviewing with Rodríguez-Delgado and Real, on June 24, 2013, Rodríguez-Cardi accepted an offer to work as an Outside Sales Representative ("OSR") at MMM. Under the terms of her employment, Rodríguez-Cardi -- who was forty-six years old at the time -- would report directly to Rodríguez-Delgado.

         To sell MMM products, all OSRs must have a license issued by the Puerto Rico Insurance Commissioner. Rodríguez-Delgado assisted Rodríguez-Cardi -- who was unlicensed and said she did not have enough money to pay the licensing fees -- with securing her license by lending her the necessary funds.

         At the outset of her employment, Rodríguez-Cardi acknowledged receipt of MMM's Job Description for the OSR position, the "Sales Representative or Independent Producers Agreement Letter," and the MMM Employee Handbook.[1] She certified her understanding that any "coordinated marketing" must be compliant with all applicable state and federal laws and CMS policies. She additionally acknowledged that she was expressly prohibited from "solicit[ing] door-to-door for Medicare beneficiaries or through other unsolicited means of direct contact, including calling a beneficiary without the beneficiary initiating the contact." Moreover, MMM's written Employee Counseling/Progressive Discipline Policy provided that employees who "failed to meet MMM's . . . job expectations or violated MMM's policies and/or CMS provisions" could face either progressive discipline or immediate termination depending on the circumstances.

         Rodríguez-Cardi's OSR duties included "conducting seminars and in-home sales presentations to eligible and potential Medicare beneficiaries"; providing product information to interested persons who had provided MMM with a valid written authorization; visiting assigned providers to "generate sales leads through referrals and to coordinate activities"; and creating various reports (e.g., in-home reports, leads results reports, and provider visit reports) which were due to Rodríguez-Delgado each day at 7:30 a.m.

         OSRs were required to meet with their supervisor each month to discuss their job progress and performance, including review of their Primary Responsibilities Form ("Hoja de Responsabilidades Primarias," hereinafter "HRP"), which memorializes the OSR's success in reaching their monthly quotas and timeliness in submitting reports.

         Rodríguez-Delgado assessed Rodríguez-Cardi's job performance in a probationary period evaluation dated September 23, 2013. The evaluation, which Rodríguez-Cardi received and signed, concluded that she "presented doubts regarding MIPPA regulation[s] and [that] her sales reports [contained] many errors." Despite the concerns expressed in the evaluation, however, Rodríguez-Cardi was given a regular employee position as an OSR. Between August 2013 and February 2014, Rodríguez-Cardi's monthly evaluations reflected her pervasive failure to meet job expectations; her HRPs indicated that she was noncompliant with between forty and sixty-seven percent of the performance indicators each month. These unfulfilled performance indicators included meeting sales, "Scope of Appointments, "[2] and provider visit quotas, as well as "daily arrival at the office."

         On February 21, 2014, Rodríguez-Delgado issued a "Record of Disciplinary Action" to Rodríguez-Cardi for her repeated failure to timely submit her sales reports between December 2013 and February 2014. When discussing the Record of Disciplinary Action with Rodríguez-Cardi, Rodríguez-Delgado informed her that "her actions were affecting the daily process of the Sales Department, generation of reports, quality calls, and audits," and that continued underperformance would be met with "more severe disciplinary measures resulting in [termination]." Rodríguez-Cardi did not write any comments or objections on the Record of Disciplinary Action despite having been given the opportunity to do so.

         After failing again to meet her monthly sales quotas in October 2013 and February 2014, Rodríguez-Cardi was placed on an Action Plan "to help her with her productivity and sales."[3] On March 17, 2014, Rodríguez-Delgado met with Rodríguez-Cardi and informed her that she was not meeting the Action Plan's objectives and that continued failure to comply would result in further adverse disciplinary action, including termination. Rodríguez-Cardi received and signed the "Action Plan Follow-Up." On April 2, 2014, Rodríguez-Delgado met with Rodríguez-Cardi once again, this time to discuss the "Action Plan Closing Memo," which detailed her noncompliance with the Plan's objectives. The following day, Rodríguez-Delgado issued ...

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