González-Rodríguez v. Potter, Civil No. 07-1118 (GAG)(BJM).

Decision Date31 March 2009
Docket NumberCivil No. 07-1118 (GAG)(BJM).
Citation605 F.Supp.2d 349
PartiesMagdalena GONZÁLEZ-RODRÍGUEZ, Plaintiffs, v. John E. POTTER, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Puerto Rico

Edelmiro Antonio Salas-Gonzalez, Urb. Villa Nevarez, San Juan, PR, for Plaintiffs.

Isabel Munoz-Acosta, United States Attorneys Office, District of Puerto Rico, San Juan, PR, for Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

GUSTAVO A. GELPÍ, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Magdalena González-Rodríguez ("González"), brought this action against her employer, the United States Postal Service ("USPS"), alleging retaliation and disparate treatment by reason of disability in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 et seq., and Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. González also alleges violations to the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2615, in the form of both interference and discrimination. Presently before the court is USPS's motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 50), González's opposition thereto (Docket No. 52), USPS's subsequent reply (Docket No. 71), and González's sur-reply (Docket No. 72). After reviewing the relevant facts and applicable law, the court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART USPS's motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 50).

I. Standard of Review for Summary Judgment & Local Rule 56

Summary Judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). "An issue is genuine if `it may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party' at trial, and material if it `possess[es] the capacity to sway the outcome of the litigation under the applicable law.'" Iverson v. City of Boston, 452 F.3d 94, 98 (1st Cir.2006) (citations omitted).

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the lack of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The nonmoving party must then "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). If the court finds that some genuine factual issue remains, the resolution of which could affect the outcome of the case, then the court must deny summary judgment. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party (here, the plaintiff) and give that party the benefit of any and all reasonable inferences. Id. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505. Moreover, at the summary judgment stage, the court does not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Id.

In disputes involving questions of motive or intent, the movant's burden is particularly rigorous. Unsettled issues regarding motive and intent will often preclude summary judgment. See Lipsett v. Univ. of P.R., 864 F.2d 881, 895 (1st Cir. 1988). Summary judgment may be appropriate, however, if the non-moving party's case rests merely upon "conclusory allegations improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation." Forestier Fradera v. Municipality of Mayaguez, 440 F.3d 17, 21 (1st Cir.2006) (quoting Benoit v. Technical Mfg. Corp., 331 F.3d 166, 173 (1st Cir.2003)). The court should deny summary judgment when the non-moving party "can point to specific facts detailed in affidavits and depositions—that is, names, dates, incidents, and supporting testimony —giving rise to an inference of discriminatory animus." Lipsett, 864 F.2d at 895.

Local Rule 56(b) requires a party moving for summary judgment to file "a separate, short, and, concise statement of material facts [...] as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue of material fact to be tried." D.P.R. L.R. 56(b). The movant must support each statement with a citation to the record. Id. The non-movant has a corresponding obligation to submit with its opposition "a separate, short, and concise statement of material facts" in which it admits, denies, or qualifies the moving party's facts with reference to each numbered paragraph of the moving party's statement. See D.P.R. L.R. 56(c). Additionally, the nonmoving party must support each denial or qualification with a record citation. Id. Similarly, Local Rule 56(d) requires that a party replying to the opposition to a motion for summary judgment "submit with its reply a separate, short, and concise statement of material facts which shall be limited to any additional facts submitted by the opposing party." The reply to the opposition to a motion for summary judgment is subject to the same requirements as the opposition to a motion for summary judgment: specific reference to each numbered paragraph of the opposing party's statement and support of each denial or qualification through record citations. See D.P.R. L.R. 56(d).

While a party's failure to comply with these rules does not automatically warrant the granting or denial of summary judgment, "parties ignore [the rules] at their peril." Ruiz Rivera v. Riley, 209 F.3d 24, 28 (1st Cir.2000). The First Circuit has repeatedly held that the district court is justified in deeming one party's submitted uncontested facts to be admitted when the other party fails to file an opposition in compliance with Local Rule 56. See, e.g., Fontanez-Nunez v. Janssen Ortho LLC, 447 F.3d 50, 55 (1st Cir.2006); Torres-Rosado v. Rotger-Sabat, 335 F.3d 1, 4 (1st Cir.2003); Corrada Betances v. Sea-Land Serv., Inc., 248 F.3d 40, 43-44 (1st Cir.2001); see also D.P.R. L.R. 56(e) (declaring that facts not properly controverted "shall be deemed admitted").

In this case, USPS complied with Local Rule 56(b) by filing a separate statement of uncontested facts with proper references to the record. See Docket No. 48. González subsequently filed an opposing statement of material facts, which was also properly supported, per the Local Rule. See Docket No. 54, 1-32. González's opposition, however, also included an additional statement of uncontested facts, set forth in separate numbered paragraphs and supported by record citations as allowed by subsection (c) of Local Rule 56. See Docket No. 54, 32-51. USPS, in turn, filed a reply memorandum of law in support of its summary judgment motion, but failed to submit a separate statement of material facts to supplement it. See Docket No. 71. If USPS wished to controvert any of the additional facts submitted by González in her opposition, its reply statement had to "deny or qualify such additional facts by reference to the numbered paragraphs of the opposing party's statement of material facts and unless a fact is admitted, [the reply statement had to] support each denial or qualification by a record citation as required by subsection (c) of [Local Rule 56]." D.P.R. L.R. 56(d). USPS failed to deny or qualify González's additional facts in the manner required by Local Rule 56(d). Therefore, this court shall deem admitted such additional material facts that are properly supported.1

II. Relevant Material Facts and Procedural Background

Consistent with the summary judgment standard, the court states the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiffs. See Iverson, 452 F.3d at 98. Additionally, in accordance with Local Rule 56, the court credits only facts properly supported by accurate record citations. See D.P.R. L.Civ.R 56(e). The court has disregarded all argument, conclusory allegations, speculation, and improbable inferences disguised as facts. See Forestier Fradera, 440 F.3d at 21; Medina-Muñoz v. R.J. Reynolds Tabacco Co., 896 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir.1990).

González began working for USPS in October of 1977, in Queens, New York. In 2000 she became an Administrative Clerk in the Expedited Services Office, in Carolina, Puerto Rico. She worked there until June 2006, when she appears to have been transferred to a different office. Between March 2005 and June 2006, González was under the direct supervision of Sandra Figueroa ("Figueroa"), who was the Expedited Service Specialist at the Carolina office. Also under Figueroa's direct supervision were Alida Rivera and Frank Trinidad, who held the same position as González.

In May 2005 and January 2006, González was diagnosed with severe persistent asthma. She submitted certifications from her health care provider to that effect and obtained approval for "Family Leave" (or "FMLA leave") on August 25, 2005 and on January 26, 2006. González's asthma was categorized by the FMLA Coordinator as a "Chronic Condition Requiring Treatment." González was approved for FMLA leave from August 25 to December 30, 2005, and from January 26, 2006 to January 26, 2007. The certifications from her health care provider indicate that during periods of asthma exacerbation, which can last approximately five to six hours, González is unable to perform her work duties. González asserts that her condition substantially impairs her ability to breathe and speak, and that when she is experiencing an asthma attack as a result of emotional stress and other environmental factors she has to concentrate on inhaling, without speaking.

In 2005 González applied for the Caribbean District Associate Supervisor Program ("ASP"), which trains USPS employees for first-time supervisory positions. On October 7, 2005, Daisy García, ASP coordinator, wrote González to inform her that she had passed the ASP exam, as she obtained a mark of at least "minimal" on all three parts of the test: "Mathematical Computation," "Reasoning Skills," and "Written Communication." On...

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