229 F.3d 49 (1st Cir. 2000), 99-2307, Suarez v Pueblo International Inc.

Docket Nº:99-2307.
Citation:229 F.3d 49
Party Name:RAMON M. SUAREZ, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS, APPELLANTS, V. PUEBLO INTERNATIONAL, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS, APPELLEES.
Case Date:October 11, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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229 F.3d 49 (1st Cir. 2000)

RAMON M. SUAREZ, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS, APPELLANTS,

V.

PUEBLO INTERNATIONAL, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS, APPELLEES.

No. 99-2307.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

October 11, 2000

Heard September 7, 2000.

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO.

Hon. Salvador E. Casellas, U.S. District Judge.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Victor Miranda Corrada, with whom Harry Anduze Montano was on brief, for appellants.

Lidia Gonzalez, with whom Annette Nogueras and Munoz Boneta Gonzalez Arbona Benitez & Peral were on brief, for appellees.

Before Selya, Circuit Judge, Bownes, Senior Circuit Judge, and Stahl, Circuit Judge.

Selya, Circuit Judge.

This appeal rises, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of an age discrimination claim - but unlike many employment discrimination cases that are consumed by the summary judgment flames, it does not necessitate an exploration of the interstices of the complex burden-shifting framework commonly associated with such matters. See, e.g., McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-05 (1973) (crafting that framework for use in discrimination cases); Mesnick v. General Elec. Co., 950 F.2d 816, 823-24 (1st Cir. 1991) (extending this model to age discrimination cases). Resolving the appeal does, however, require us to contrast the sort of changes in working conditions that may work a constructive discharge with those that lead to nothing more than unpleasantness, hurt feelings, and wounded pride. In the end, we affirm the district court's entry of summary judgment in the employer's favor.

I. BACKGROUND

Following conventional summary judgment praxis, see, e.g., McCarthy v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 56 F.3d 313, 315 (1st Cir. 1995), we limn the facts in the light most congenial to the party opposing the motion for brevis disposition (in this case, the former employee).

Plaintiff-appellant Ramon M. Suarez was born in 1937. At age fifty-two, he became president of CaribAd, Inc., an advertising firm with offices in Hato Rey. CaribAd was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pueblo International, Inc. (Pueblo). Pueblo's core business involved the operation of supermarkets, and CaribAd provided advertising services to Pueblo and its various divisions and affiliates (as well as to unrelated enterprises) in Puerto Rico.

The appellant's work situation began to deteriorate in 1996 when his immediate superior, William T. Keon III (Pueblo's president and chairman of CaribAd's board of directors), decided to restructure Pueblo's Puerto Rican operations to stem mounting losses. Keon consulted with the chief executives of CaribAd's two largest in-house clients, namely, Edwin Perez (who ran Pueblo's supermarket operations in Puerto Rico) and Filiberto Berrios (the president of Pueblo's "Blockbuster" division). Perez and Berrios both criticized the quality of CaribAd's work product. In response, Keon wrote to the appellant on March 28, 1996, directing him to hire new creative talent. Expressing satisfaction with his existing staff, the appellant resisted.

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At that juncture, Keon took the bull by the horns and decided to transfer most of CaribAd's employees from Hato Rey to Pueblo's corporate headquarters in Carolina.1 Although Keon assured the appellant that he (Suarez) would remain in charge of all CaribAd activities and personnel, Keon emphasized that the appellant's principal responsibility henceforth would be the development of "third-party" business (i.e., business generated outside of Pueblo's corporate family). To facilitate this plan, Suarez and a receptionist would continue to occupy a free-standing office suite in Hato Rey, as well as having an office at Pueblo's facility in Carolina.2

From the appellant's viewpoint, the relocation came as a blow. His discomfiture increased when Keon, referring to the need to attract third-party business, told him that he would have to "sing and dance alone." He also took umbrage at Keon's statement to the effect that he would have to knock on doors like a traveling salesman. Finally, in what the appellant thought was an arbitrary and unreasonable demand, Keon ordered him to complete a three-page relocation report overnight.

Feeling isolated and deposed, the appellant developed a depressive illness. This culminated in a collapse, forcing him to take sick leave in June of 1996. The appellant's physicians advised him not to resume his duties in the near future, and he transmitted his doctors' notes to Keon. Keon sent flowers and a "get well" card, and repeatedly expressed his hope that the appellant would return to work as soon as possible.

That hope never materialized. After exhausting his sick leave in July 1996, the appellant requested an additional five or six weeks of paid vacation. Keon refused to grant this request and again beseeched the appellant to return to his desk. The appellant refused to do so and remained absent from work for several more months. During that period, he failed to respond to Keon's repeated efforts to contact him.

Professing exasperation, Keon terminated the appellant's employment on December 4, 1996. Five days later, an "outside" advertising executive, Anibal Garcia, began work as CaribAd's "new business" manager. Some months thereafter, Garcia became the firm's chief executive officer.

Asserting the existence of an elaborate, age-based plot designed to render him obsolete, the appellant filed suit against Pueblo, CaribAd, Keon, and Perez.3 His...

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