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Rosa M. Aleman Martinez v. Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration

September 26, 2011

ROSA M. ALEMAN MARTINEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PUERTO RICO FEDERAL AFFAIRS ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Rosa M. Aleman Martinez, the plaintiff in this civil case, seeks injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive damages for her claims of sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII" or the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 (2006). Currently before the Court is defendant Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration's ("PRFAA")*fn1 motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that it must grant the defendant's motion for summary judgment.*fn2

I. BACKGROUND

A. The Plaintiff's Employment with the PRFAA

The PRFAA is an executive-branch agency of the government of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and its primary mission is to serve as a liaison between the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the United States government. Defendant Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration's Memorandum of Law in support of its Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Mem.") at 2. The plaintiff began working for the PRFAA as a clerk on or about September 8, 1986, and was promoted several times thereafter. Id. at 4. One of the promotions was to the position of Director of Finance on June 1, 2000. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 13; Def.'s Mem. at 4. As Director of Finance, the plaintiff's primary responsibilities were to issue disbursements, to review the accounts payable, and to review the invoices of other staff members. Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration's Memorandum of Law in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s Opp'n") at 2.*fn3 In total, the plaintiff worked for the PRFAA for approximately twenty years, Def.'s Mem., Ex. B (Plaintiff's Deposition Transcript ("Pl.'s Dep. Tr.")) at 33:4-5, until her termination on March 13, 2006, Second Am. Compl. ¶ 19.

B. Measures Taken by the PRFAA in Response to Budget Cuts

In January 2005, following the 2004 elections in Puerto Rico, a new Administration took office and Eduardo Bhatia was appointed Executive Director of the PRFAA. Def.'s Mem., Ex. A (Affidavit of Eduardo Bhatia ("Bhatia Aff.")) ¶ 1.*fn4 Until 2005, the PRFAA's annual budget exceeded $10 million; however, as a result of what the defendant characterizes as a "severe fiscal crisis" facing Puerto Rico, its budget was "drastically reduced" between 2005 and 2007 to approximately $7 million. Id., Ex. A (Bhatia Aff.) ¶¶ 3-5. Although the plaintiff presents some evidence of a fiscal year 2004-2005 budget surplus, Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. S (November 17, 2005 Letter from Juan Torres Martinez to Bhatia ("Nov. 17, 2005 Letter")), at the beginning of 2005 the PRFAA projected "a budget deficit of approximately $700,000 before the end of the fiscal year,"*fn5 and for this reason, during 2005, the PRFAA's budget was "cut by more than 30%," Def.'s Mem., Ex. A (Bhatia Aff.) ¶ 5.

"In response to the projected budget deficit, [the] PRFAA implemented various cost-saving measures," including a plan for "eliminating positions in order to maximize the agency's remaining resources." Id., Ex. A (Bhatia Aff.) ¶ 6. Director Bhatia instructed the PRFAA's Deputy Director, Ana Carrion, to "prepare a layoff plan and to submit a report to the Office of the Governor of Puerto Rico with proposed additional cuts in staffing and other expenditures." Id., Ex. A (Bhatia Aff.) ¶ 8. Specifically, Director Bhatia requested that Deputy Director Carrion "review and evaluate" the PRFAA employees, "especially those of the Administration, Budget and Finance Division," id., Ex. A (Bhatia Aff.) ¶ 9, because this division had more employees than any other in the agency, despite its scope being limited to internal organizational matters "rather than the external services that make up the PRFAA's entire mandate and mission," id., Ex. A (Bhatia Aff.) ¶ 9. In July 2005, Deputy Director Carrion "finalized her evaluation and plan for restructuring the PRFAA," which included the "elimination of the Administration portion of the Administration, Budget and Finance Division," as well as a "reduction of the employees assigned to the Budget and Finance tasks to [seven] employees." Id., Ex. A (Bhatia Aff.) ¶ 10. The plaintiff "was among the employees mentioned in the plan for possible job elimination." Id., Ex. A (Bhatia Aff.) ¶ 10.

In September 2005, as part of the PRFAA reorganization spearheaded by Deputy Director Carrion, the Administration, Budget and Finance Division was replaced by the Budget and Finance Division. Id., Ex. A (Bhatia Aff.) ¶ 11. Jorge Pachon was appointed supervisor of the new division effective September 1, 2005. Id. at 5-6. "Prior to the reorganization, the plaintiff reported to the then-Director of the Administration, Budget and Finance Division, Victor Torres." Id., Ex A (Bhatia Aff.) ¶ 11. After the reorganization, the plaintiff was assigned to the Budget and Finance Division, and supervised by Chief Financial Officer Pachon. Id., Ex. B (Pl.'s Dep. Tr.) at 33:8-18. On January 13, 2006, Director Bhatia made the decision to eliminate four positions, one of which was the plaintiff's position. Id., Ex. A (Bhatia Aff.) ¶ 12. The plaintiff was notified of this elimination on March 13, 2006. Id., Ex. A (Bhatia Aff.) ¶ 15. The tasks performed by the plaintiff were assigned to other PRFAA employees. Id., Ex. A (Bhatia Aff.) ¶ 13. In the Spring of 2006, the PRFAA learned that it was facing additional budget cuts and in June 2006, the Puerto Rican legislature announced another 10% reduction in the PRFAA's budget, leading to further job eliminations. Id., Ex. A (Bhatia Aff.) ¶ 16. From January 2006 to June 2006, the PRFAA eliminated or did not rehire to fill vacancies for eleven positions. Id., Ex. A (Bhatia Aff.) ¶ 17.

C. The Plaintiff's Sexual Harassment Allegations

The plaintiff maintains that from November 2005 until March 2006, Chief Pachon subjected her to a hostile work environment. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 16; Pl.'s Opp'n at 3. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that from the day he became her supervisor, Chief Pachon began a "pattern of uncomfortable, repeated and sustained sexual conduct upon the plaintiff,"

Pl.'s Opp'n at 3, consisting of "commentaries, remarks, innuendoes, expressions, and unwelcome looks and advances towards her person with sexual connotations and overtones," Second Am. Compl. ¶ 16. She claims that from the time Chief Pachon "was appointed as [her] supervisor, . . . [he] made clear to [her] that things [were] going to be his way from thereon." Pl.'s Opp'n at 3-4. She contends that Chief Pachon made "comments about her dresses," id. at 4, and testified at her deposition that he "always [had] something to say about the way [she] was dressing," id., Ex. I (Plaintiff's Deposition Transcript ("Pl.'s Dep. Tr.")) at 131:13-14. The plaintiff alleges that "[these] kinds of remarks were made constantly." Id. at 4. She also claims that Chief Pachon always "look[ed] at [her] with a nasty look," id., and she testified at her deposition that he "was looking at [her] breast[s] all the time," Def.'s Mem., Ex. B (Pl.'s Dep. Tr.) at 165:10-11. Similarly, the plaintiff asserts that Chief Pachon "constantly used to watch female breasts," and that a co-worker, "Ms. Torres[,] complained" about this conduct. Pl.'s Opp'n at 10.

The plaintiff further testified that sometime in February 2006, she entered Chief Pachon's office while he was on the phone and heard him say "hold on, someone with a smelly-who's smelling so good is just coming into my office." Id. at 4; see also id., Ex. I (Pl.'s Dep. Tr.) at 125:12-126:4. The plaintiff also contends that Chief Pachon once said to her in a "bad tone, 'I won't bite you,'" which she understood to be "suggestive of her sexual desirability." Id. at 4-5. The plaintiff also claims, "[w]hile training him, Pachon demanded [her] to get close to [him] and rubbed his legs on her legs," and that "[t]his type of conduct repeated several times between November and December of 2005 and February [] 2006." Id. at 10. Additionally, the plaintiff avers that in "October of 2005 Pachon went into [her] office and grabbed her hand, telling her 'I love the design of your nails.'" Id. at 11. She claims that he "touched her hand at least . . . two different times between October and December of 2005. Id. Lastly, the plaintiff asserts that when she asked Chief Pachon when she would get assigned new duties, he answered, "be good with me and don't worry about it." Id. at 5.

The plaintiff claims that, in response to her rejection of Chief Pachon's behavior, she was subjected to "needless monitoring, scrutiny[,] and eventually some of her job duties were reassigned to co[]workers." Second Am. Compl. ¶ 18. She further contends that Chief Pachon "create[d] some operational procedures to make [her] go to his supervisor's office on a frequent basis, where he spent more of his working time." Pl.'s Opp'n at 5. She alleges that Chief Pachon transferred the petty cash box from the plaintiff's office to his office. Id. The plaintiff testified at her deposition that prior to these alleged events, she "never had a problem on [her] job," Def.'s Mem, Ex. B (Pl.'s Dep. Tr.) at 158:3, but that by February 2006, she "couldn't handle it [any] more," id., Ex. B (Pl.'s Dep. Tr.) at 175:5.

The PRFAA's personnel manual states that it is an equal-opportunity employer that "has a policy of prohibiting all types of discrimination in the workplace, including discrimination on the basis of sex and its expression as sexual harassment."*fn6 Id., Ex. C (PRFAA Personnel Handbook("Personnel Handbook")) at 12.*fn7 The PRFAA manual encourages PRFAA employees to raise employment concerns and specifically provides that [i]t is the duty and obligation of all employees to inform any act of an inappropriate sexual nature of which he/she is a victim or has observed in his/her workplace. The complaint can be submitted via the Executive Director or General Counsel or any other functionary of the agency delegated by him, who will then refer the matter to the Office of Legal Affairs and the Division of Human Resources.

Id., Ex. C (Personnel Handbook) at 13. The policy also specifies that no retaliatory action will be taken against a person who files a complaint of sexual harassment. Id., Ex. C (Personnel Handbook) at 15, ¶ 6.

The defendant argues that the plaintiff was "aware that [the] PRFAA has a policy against sexual harassment in the workplace and that there was a procedure set forth for reporting issues of sexual harassment." Def.'s Mem. at 4; see also id., Ex. C (Receipt of Employee Handbook & Certification) at 2-3. The plaintiff, however, claims that she "does not recall having signed a document titled, 'Receipt of Employee Handbook,' dated February 26, 1998." Pl.'s Opp'n at 3. In addition, the plaintiff claims that the PRFAA never gave her a copy of the May 10,1999 document titled Certification. Id.

The plaintiff never submitted a formal report detailing the allegations of sexual harassment to the PRFAA's Human Resources Department, but she did report the situation to Victor Torres, her former supervisor, id. at 5, and "thought that as one of the highest ranking position[s] within the agency[,] he might raise the situation [with] the Legal Department or the Executive Director," id. She testified at her deposition that when she complained to him, Torres told her to "calm down" and that she "[had] to put it in writing." Def.'s Mem., Ex. B (Pl.'s Dep. Tr.) at 152:9.

C. The Plaintiff's Termination From PRFAA

During a January 13, 2006 meeting "regarding administrative employees and the Budget and Finance Division," Director Bhatia "made the decision to eliminate four positions," including the plaintiff's position. Def.'s Mem., Ex. A (Bhatia Aff.) ¶ 12. Director Bhatia asserts that he "had no knowledge of the alleged inappropriate conduct" the plaintiff "claims to have endured or [the plaintiff's] reaction to [Chief] Pachon's alleged conduct." Id., Ex. A (Bhatia Aff.) ¶ 14. As previously noted, the plaintiff was notified that her position had been terminated on March 13, 2006. Id., Ex. C (Aleman Deposition Exhibit 11: Notice of ...


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