Cross v. Dep't Of Health Of The Commonwealth Of P.R.

Decision Date08 September 2010
Docket NumberNos. 08-2027, 08-2028.,s. 08-2027, 08-2028.
PartiesAna I. ALVARADO-SANTOS, Plaintiff, Appellee/Cross-appellant, v. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PUERTO RICO, Defendant, Appellant/Cross-appellee; Johnny Rullán, Héctor Mena-Franco, and Francisco Rodríguez-Pichardo, Defendants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

José Enrico Valenzuela-Alvarado, Assistant Solicitor General, with whom Irene S. Soroeta-Kodesh, Solicitor General, Leticia Casalduc-Rabell, Deputy Solicitor General, and Zaira Z. Girón-Anadón, Deputy Solicitor General, were on brief, for appellant/cross-appellee.

Lorenzo J. Polomares-Starbuck, with whom Raymond Sanchez Maceira and Lorenzo Palomares, P.S.C., were on brief, for appellee/cross-appellant.

Before LYNCH, Chief Judge, BOUDIN and LIPEZ, Circuit Judges.

LIPEZ, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Ana I. Alvarado-Santos (Alvarado-Santos) obtained a favorable jury verdict on her claims of national origin and gender discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. Defendant Department of Health of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Department of Health), her former employer, appeals from the judgment. The Department of Health contends that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, to a new trial on the grounds that the evidence at trial was insufficient to support the verdict, that plaintiff's counsel made improper and prejudicial comments in closing argument, and that the award of $300,000 in compensatory damages was grossly excessive. Alvarado-Santos cross-appeals, arguing that she was entitled to an award of front pay in addition to compensatory damages and back pay.

After careful consideration, we conclude that the evidence is insufficient to support a finding of national origin or gender discrimination. Accordingly, we reverse and enter judgment for the Department of Health.

I.

A. Factual Background

We recite the relevant facts in the light most favorable to the jury verdict. Visible Sys. Corp. v. Unisys Corp., 551 F.3d 65, 69 (1st Cir.2008).

Alvarado-Santos, a native of Puerto Rico, is a physician specializing in family medicine. After working as the medical director of a psycho-social treatment center for adolescents for some time, she applied for a job with the Correctional Health Services Program of the Department of Health. On April 10, 2002, Alvarado-Santos entered into a professional services contract with the Correctional Health Services Program to work as an Admissions Director at the Rio Piedras Correctional Complex. 1 In that position, she supervised a team of medical and support staff and oversaw the medical screening and evaluation of inmates admitted to the correctional complex. Alvarado-Santos' initial contract with the Department of Health extended through June 30, 2002. Her contract was renewed for the year beginning July 1, 2002, and was again renewed for the year beginning July 1, 2003.

In the fall of 2003, the Admissions Center where Alvarado-Santos worked in Rio Piedras was closed and the health services that had been offered there were moved to the Bayamón Correctional Complex. All of the personnel who had worked at the Rio Piedras Admissions Center, including Alvarado-Santos, were transferred to Bayamón. On October 1, 2003, Alvarado-Santos' 2003-2004 contract was amended to reflect her transfer.

After the transfer of the Rio Piedras health services and personnel to Bayamón, the Bayamón Correctional Complex had two Admissions Centers for inmate health services: Admissions Center 308 and Admissions Center 705. 2 Alvarado-Santos directed the provision of health services at Admissions Center 705, while Marcos Devarie, a male physician originally from Puerto Rico, directed Admissions Center 308. Devarie had first begun working for the Correctional Health Services Program in 1991 and had been the director of Admissions Center 308 in Bayamón since 1997.

Doctor Francisco Rodríguez-Pichardo, the Director of Clinical Services at the Bayamón Correctional Complex and a native of the Dominican Republic, was Alvarado-Santos' immediate supervisor in Bayamón. Some time after October 1, 2003, an office clerk who worked at Admissions Center 705 overheard Rodríguez-Pichardo saying that “Dominican doctors were better” than “the other physicians who were there, who were Puerto Rican.” One physician working at Admissions Center 705 described Rodríguez-Pichardo as a “hard” and “aggressive” person.

When Alvarado-Santos first began working in Bayamón in October 2003, Admissions Center 705 did not yet have certain equipment, such as an x-ray machine and land-line phone service. The center received an x-ray machine and phone service in January 2004. In the months before Admissions Center 705 was fully equipped, physicians working at the center were given mobile phones for emergency calls and inmates in need of x-rays were transported to Admissions Center 308. Admissions Center 705 also did not have a “medical cadre,” a group of custody officials assigned by the Corrections Administration to monitor inmates, although the center did have some security officials assigned by the Corrections Administration. 3 During this period, Admissions Center 308 had a working x-ray machine, phone service, and a medical cadre.

Following the transfer to Bayamón, Alvarado-Santos had a series of difficulties with her supervisor, Rodríguez-Pichardo. Prior to the October 1, 2003 transfer, the October medical shift schedule for Admissions Center 705 had already been prepared by Gualberto Guerrero, a physician originally from the Dominican Republic who had been preparing the shift schedule for years. After the transfer, Alvarado-Santos modified the October shift schedule, redistributing the medical shifts. For example, she removed several shifts from Guerrero and two other physicians, Bernarda Cuevas and Juan Velez. She instead increased the number of shifts assigned to a male physician, Dr. Ortiz, and gave shifts to two female physicians, Drs. Diaz and Pagan, who had not had any shifts in the original schedule prepared by Guerrero.

As a result of the altered shift schedule, Guerrero, Velez and Cuevas complained to Rodríguez-Pichardo that Alvarado-Santos had taken away some of their regular shifts without notice. After comparing the October shift schedule with previous schedules, Rodríguez-Pichardo confirmed that Alvarado-Santos had taken away regular shifts from the physicians who had lodged complaints. Without discussing the matter with Alvarado-Santos, Rodríguez-Pichardo returned several shifts to the complaining physicians and removed the additional shifts Alvarado-Santos had given to Ortiz, Diaz and Pagan, so that the distribution of shifts resembled the original schedule prepared by Guerrero. 4 Rodríguez-Pichardo also ordered Guerrero to continue preparing the shift schedule for Admissions Center 705, instead of Alvarado-Santos. Devarie, director of Admissions Center 308, prepared the medical shift schedule for his center.

Rodríguez-Pichardo also ordered some personnel working in Admissions Centers 308 and 705 to report to a centralized supervisor rather than their respective Admissions Directors. For example, he ordered all nursing personnel to report to the Director of Nursing, medical records personnel to report to the Director of Medical Records, and radiology technicians to report to the Health Services Administrator.

At some time after the transfer, Alvarado-Santos complained to Rodríguez-Pichardo that two physicians, Guerrero and Patricia López, both from the Dominican Republic, were falsifying their time entries for payroll purposes. After investigating the complaint, Rodríguez-Pichardo concluded that there was no falsification or alteration in the time records and, without talking to Alvarado-Santos, he dismissed her complaint. Although Guerrero ordinarily submitted his time records to Alvarado-Santos for approval, after this incident Rodríguez-Pichardo directed Guerrero to submit his time records directly to the human resources employee in charge of payroll, thereby bypassing Alvarado-Santos. Rodríguez-Pichardo did not order any of the physicians supervised by Devarie to submit their time records directly to human resources; instead, those physicians continued to submit their time records to Devarie for approval.

In March 2004, Alvarado-Santos was told by a Correctional Health Services Program staff person that she had been chosen to go to a medical training program in New York. She never attended the training, however, because Rodríguez-Pichardo informed her that he preferred to send Devarie. Rodríguez-Pichardo also did not invite her to attend all monthly staff meetings.

On May 26, 2004, Alvarado-Santos received a letter from Hector Mena-Franco, the Executive Director for the Correctional Health Services Program and a native of the Dominican Republic, stating that her contract expired on June 30, 2004 and would not be renewed for the 2004-2005 year. After Alvarado-Santos requested further explanation of the reasons for the nonrenewal, Mena-Franco responded as follows:

During the current fiscal year the Rio Piedras Correctional Complex's Admissions Center, where you were providing services as a Director, was closed. It should be pointed out that the Program had no say in the decision on this matter. For that reason it was necessary to [amend] the contract between the parties to state for the record that the services would be provided in the Bayamón Correctional Complex, and the effective term thereof remained unaltered.
In view of the restructuring of the Bayamón Correctional Complex, we have found it necessary to integrate the Admissions service to create consistency with the operating structure in all the correctional complexes. Every Correctional Complex has a single director for services since we cannot justify the duplication of services, and this violates compliance and
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