181 F.3d 15 (1st Cir. 1999), 98-1732, Rodriguez-Cuervos v. Wal-Mart

Docket Nº:98-1732
Citation:181 F.3d 15
Party Name:JORGE RODRIGUEZ-CUERVOS, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. WAL-MART STORES, INC., ET AL., Defendants, Appellees.
Case Date:June 11, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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181 F.3d 15 (1st Cir. 1999)

JORGE RODRIGUEZ-CUERVOS, Plaintiff, Appellant,

v.

WAL-MART STORES, INC., ET AL., Defendants, Appellees.

No. 98-1732

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

June 11, 1999

Heard March 3, 1999.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Maricarmen Almodovar-Diaz for appellant.

Frances R. Colon-Rivera, with whom Luis F. Antonetti and Goldman Antonetti & Cordova, P.S.C. were on brief, for appellees.

Before Torruella, Chief Judge, Selya, Circuit Judge, and Acosta,[*] Senior District Judge.

TORRUELLA, Chief Judge.

Plaintiff-appellant Jorge Rodriguez-Cuervos ("Rodriguez") filed a complaint charging defendant-appellee Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. ("Wal-Mart") with illegal race and national origin discrimination in violation of federal law. Rodriguez now appeals

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the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the former employer, Wal-Mart. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

Rodriguez, who is a U.S. citizen born in Puerto Rico, began his employment with Wal-Mart in March 1991. At that time, Wal-Mart was preparing to open its first stores in Puerto Rico. Rodriguez assisted Wal-Mart with the opening of these stores and received training in order to become a store manager. Rodriguez participated in Wal-Mart training programs in Florida and Arkansas.

On March 7, 1992, Rodriguez was promoted to the position of Division Manager in Wal-Mart's Store Planning Division, and received a salary increase. As Division Manager, Rodriguez was responsible for the commencement of Wal-Mart's business operations in Fajardo and Hatillo -- two municipalities located in the northeast and northwest of Puerto Rico, respectively.

On April 15, 1993, Rodriguez's supervisor rated his overall performance as "exceeded expectations." Under the heading "Overall Strengths," the supervisor described Rodriguez as possessing "a sense of urgency to help when and where he is needed to get Wal-Mart established in Puerto Rico" and "a good caring attitude towards associates."

Shortly after this evaluation, Rodriguez was appointed manager of the Wal-Mart store in Isabela. On March 19, 1994, Rodriguez's managerial performance was again evaluated. Although his supervisor cited several areas needing improvement, he concluded that Rodriguez's overall performance again "exceeded expectations." The evaluator described Rodriguez as a "good communicator" with a winning "Yes I Can" attitude.

Sometime in mid-1994, Rodriguez was named manager of the Fajardo store. On November 17, 1994, Rodriguez's performance as Fajardo store manager was evaluated by William Cahill, District Manager for Wal-Mart in Puerto Rico, and Hector Vazquez, Wal-Mart's Human Resources Director for Puerto Rico. Cahill and Vazquez informed Rodriguez of the results of this evaluation in a memorandum dated November 23, 1994. The memorandum outlined several "opportunities" for improvement in Rodriguez's management of the Fajardo store, and requested that Rodriguez submit a written action plan in response to the cited "opportunities." The Cahill/Vazquez memorandum also presented Rodriguez with an ultimatum: either step down from the position of manager of the Fajardo store and be re-trained, or stay on as manager and be held accountable for the results of an attitude survey to be conducted in three days' time, among all of the Fajardo associates. Rodriguez chose the latter option.

Good to their word, Cahill and Vazquez conducted an opinion survey of the Fajardo associates on November 26, 1994. On December 27, Rodriguez received the results of this survey, which ranked Rodriguez in several areas as compared with other managers at the store. Cahill and Rodriguez discussed the survey results, and on January 10, 1995, Cahill again evaluated Rodriguez's performance in Fajardo. This time Rodriguez received an overall performance rating of "didn't meet expectations." By memorandum dated May 3, 1995, Wal-Mart removed Rodriguez from the position of store manager. Rodriguez was subsequently demoted to an assistant manager position in the Hatillo store.

In due course, Rodriguez filed a complaint alleging Wal-Mart discriminated against him based on his race, ethnicity, and national origin, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000-e, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Wal-Mart moved to dismiss Rodriguez's complaint on the ground that it failed to state a prima facie case of race or national origin discrimination as required under the burden-shifting framework established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-804

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(1973). In its subsequent Reply to Plaintiff's Response to Dispositive Motion, Wal-Mart also argued that Rodriguez failed to establish that its legitimate and non-discriminatory reason for Rodriguez's demotion was, in reality, a pretext for race or national origin discrimination.

On April 8, 1997, the district court issued an order advising the parties that the motion to dismiss would be treated as a motion for summary judgment. On April 30, the district court clarified its April 8 order and advised Rodriguez "to proceed to engage in discovery . . . in order to adequately oppose the motion for summary judgment." Finally, on January 9, 1998, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of Wal-Mart. Rodriguez now appeals.

DISCUSSION

We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Rodriguez. See Dominique v. Weld, 73 F.3d 1156, 1158 (1st Cir. 1996).

Absent direct evidence of discrimination, a Title VII plaintiff must resort to the three-stage burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas. See Ayala-Gerena v. Bristol Myers-Squibb Co., 95 F.3d 86, 96 (1st Cir. 1996). Under this framework, the plaintiff shoulders the initial burden of adducing a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination. This includes a showing that: (1) plaintiff is a member of a protected class; (2) plaintiff's employer took an adverse employment action against him; (3) plaintiff was qualified for the employment he held; and (4) plaintiff's position remained open or was filled by a person whose qualifications were similar to his. See St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 506 (1993); McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802; Conward v. Cambridge Sch. Comm., 171 F.3d 12, 19 (1st Cir. 1999). Establishment of a prima facie case creates a presumption of unlawful discrimination. See Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254 (1981). Once a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to rebut this presumption by articulating a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its adverse employment action. See McDonnell Douglas 411 U.S. at 802; Shorette v. Rite Aid of Maine, Inc., 155 F.3d 8, 12 (1st Cir. 1998).1 In the third and final stage, the burden devolves upon the plaintiff to prove that the reasons advanced by the defendant-employer constitute mere pretext for unlawful discrimination. See Hicks, 509 U.S. at 507-508; Woods v. Friction Materials, Inc., 30 F.3d 255, 260 (1st Cir. 1994). To meet this burden, the plaintiff must prove not only that the reason articulated by the employer was a sham, but also that its true reason was plaintiff's race or national origin. See Shorette, 155 F.3d at 13.

As mentioned above, see supra, note 1, at all times Rodriguez bears the burden of proving that Wal-Mart discriminated against him on the basis of race and/or national origin. Thus, at the summary judgment stage, Wal-Mart could prevail only if Rodriguez failed to adduce sufficient evidence from which a rational fact-finder could conclude that he was demoted because he is Puerto Rican. See Shorette, 155 F.3d at 12. Put another way, Rodriguez cannot avert summary judgment if the record is devoid of adequate direct or circumstantial evidence of intentional

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racial, ethnic, or national origin discrimination on the part of Wal-Mart. On appeal, Rodriguez contends that he did adduce adequate evidence to generate a trial worthy issue as to whether Wal-Mart discriminated against him in violation of Title VII. In the alternative, Rodriguez argues that the district judge abused his discretion in denying his post-judgment request for additional time to conduct discovery in order to properly oppose Wal-Mart's motion for summary judgment. We disagree on both counts.

A. Summary Judgment

For present purposes, we assume arguendo that Rodriguez carried his initial burden of establishing a prima facie case.2 Further, it is clear that Wal-Mart satisfied its limited burden of production by articulating a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for demoting Rodriguez: namely, his unsatisfactory performance. Thus, we focus on the ultimate issue: whether Rodriguez adduced sufficient evidence from which a rational fact finder could have inferred both that Wal-Mart's articulated reason was a pretext, and that its true reason for demoting Rodriguez was racial, ethnic, or national origin discrimination. See Shorette, 155 F.3d at 15.

To prove that Wal-Mart's proffered reason for demoting him was merely pretextual, Rodriguez points to two previous performance evaluations in which he was rated as exceeding the company's expectations. Rodriguez argues that because the contents of his prior evaluations contradict Cahill's findings in the January 10 evaluation, Cahill's findings must be pretextual. The problem with this argument is that in relying on his past performance evaluations, Rodriguez fails to take into account the fact that he was working in different capacities at different stores, under different supervisors with different expectations. As a result, Cahill's evaluation is not necessarily inconsistent...

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