Echevarria v. AstraZeneca, LP

Decision Date30 September 2015
Docket NumberCivil No. 13–1160 (PAD).
Citation133 F.Supp.3d 372
Parties Taymari Delgado ECHEVARRIA, Plaintiff, v. ASTRAZENECA, LP, et al., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Puerto Rico

Vilma M. Dapena–Rodriguez, San Juan, PR, for Plaintiff.

Ana Beatriz Rivera–Beltran, Elizabeth Perez–Lleras, Lourdes C. Hernandez–Venegas, Schuster & Aguilo LLP, San Juan, PR, Niza M. Motola, Littler Mendelson, PC, Miami, FL, for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

DELGADO–HERNÁNDEZ, District Judge.

Plaintiff Taymari Delgado–Echevarria initiated this action against her former employer, AstraZeneca Pharmaceutical LP, complaining of age and disability discrimination, hostile work environment, interference with a protected leave of absence, retaliation, tortious conduct, and unjust discharge under various federal and Puerto Rico statutes.1 Before the court is AstraZeneca's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 97). For the reasons explained below, the motion is GRANTED and the case DISMISSED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that after years of impeccable employment history with AstraZeneca, she disclosed to her immediate supervisor some medical problems to justify days off for treatment. Then, she claims, the supervisor engaged in a pattern of intense harassment and adverse employment actions in an attempt to fabricate a negative employment record and force her resignation. The pattern exacerbated her conditions to the point where she had to apply for a disability leave of absence, and AstraZeneca granted the leave but refused to authorize an extension, instead terminating her employment without affording her reasonable accommodation (Docket No. 1 at ¶¶ 16–21, 30, 62). AstraZeneca denied liability, and following discovery moved for summary judgment (Docket No. 96). Plaintiff opposed AstraZeneca's motion (Docket No. 114), AstraZeneca replied (Docket No. 123) and plaintiff surreplied (Docket No. 129).2

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The purpose of summary judgment is to pierce the pleadings and assess the proof in order to see whether there is need for trial. Mesnick v. General Electric Co., 950 F.2d 816, 822 (1st Cir.1991).

The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). A factual dispute is "genuine" if it could be resolved in favor of either party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). It is "material" if it potentially affects the outcome of the case in light of applicable law. Calero–Cerezo v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 355 F.3d 6, 19 (1st Cir.2004). As to issues on which the nonmovant has the burden of proof, the movant need to no more than aver absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548 ; Mottolo v. Fireman's Fund Ins. Co., 43 F.3d 723, 725 (1st Cir.1995).

Once the moving party has satisfied this requirement, the nonmoving party has the burden of presenting facts that demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact for trial. LeBlanc v. Great American Ins. Co., 6 F.3d 836, 841 (1st Cir.1993). All reasonable factual inferences must be drawn in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought. Shafmaster v. U.S., 707 F.3d 130, 135 (1st Cir.2013).

To resist summary judgment, the nonmovant must do more than show some metaphysical doubt as to a material fact. Matsushita Elec. Inds. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Conclusory allegations, empty rhetoric, unsupported speculation, or evidence which, in the aggregate, is less than significantly probative will not suffice to ward off a properly supported motion for summary judgment. Nieves–Romero v. U.S., 715 F.3d 375, 378 (1st Cir.2013). Careful record review reflects absence of genuine dispute as to the facts identified in the section that follows. Based on those facts, AstraZeneca is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

III. FINDINGS OF FACT3
A. The Parties

AstraZeneca is in the business of developing, producing, manufacturing and marketing prescription medications. See Docket No. 96, Exh. 1 "Defendants' Statement of Uncontested Facts in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment" ("SUMF") at ¶ 1. During the relevant period, its Regional Sales Director for Puerto Rico was Elsa Saavedra. SUMF at ¶ 11.

Plaintiff was employed by AstraZeneca as a Pharmaceutical Sales Specialist—a sales representative—in 2001. SUMF at ¶ 8. She was responsible for management of a sales territory and her primary duties included sales and customer service. SUMF at ¶ 9. In 2009 she was promoted to a sales representative position in the newly created Hospital Division. SUMF at ¶ 16. Her duties did not change but the products she was responsible for did. SUMF at ¶ 17.4 In the new position, she was assigned a hospital territory called "Hospital CV East," covering various hospitals in the municipalities of Caguas, Cayey, Aibonito, Juncos, Las Piedras, Humacao and Fajardo. SUMF at ¶ 16. She was supervised by AstraZeneca's Executive District Manager, Maribel Martínez, who in turn, reported to Saavedra. SUMF at ¶ 18.

B. Performance Evaluations

Sales representatives are subject to mid-year and annual evaluations, and monitored by way of a "Field Coaching Form."5 SUMF at ¶¶ 26, 28. The Form is prepared by the representative's superiors to record the representative's performance and presentation during field rides (e.g. visits to customers). SUMF at ¶ 29. Field rides are conducted to evaluate the representatives' strengths and weaknesses. Id. The information recorded is made part of the representative's annual performance evaluation. SUMF at ¶ 32.

C. Plaintiff's performance

In the Form corresponding to the April 12, 2010 field ride, Martínez recorded that plaintiff, partially met expectations in four (4) out of the five (5) areas. SUMF at ¶ 33. She stated that plaintiff's "focus should be to the top customers to the specific objective and the simplicity of the conversation so the features and benefits of our portfolio begins to be the solution for the customers." Id. Further, she pointed out that plaintiff had to "plan for the objective to be clear and simple, follow up on the rearrangement of routing so you impact those top customers with the right reach and frequency, important to allocate the resources since the beginning of the month so you are giving the tops the most [sic] of the resourc [sic]." Id. The Forms corresponding to the field rides of May, June, and July 2010, reflect plaintiff's generally meeting expectations. As to the form corresponding to the field ride of October 5, 2010, it reveals that plaintiff's overall performance did not meet expectations. The Form corresponding to the February 24, 2011 field ride identifies several areas on need of improvement, such as uncovering need, develop a conversation, and help customers choose the appropriate patient.

In the form following the March 21, 2011 field ride, Martínez recorded to have discussed with plaintiff the importance of appropriate patient description for the portfolio; symptoms description depending on customer needs; and post-analysis of call as key to progress. In the Form corresponding to the April 28, 2011 field ride, she recorded that plaintiff needed development in being more specific while doing opening statements; in focusing on the specific patient type; in bringing in solution; and in closing. Also, she highlighted plaintiff's need to have a specific objective and to deliver it in a concise manner. Id.

In the Form corresponding to the May 23, 2011 field ride, Martínez recorded that plaintiff "needed improvement" on the "[a]ble to articulate in a clear and concise manner" area. In the "[c]onsider the following when creating action steps" section, she stated that plaintiff needed to be more specific while doing the opening statements, in focusing on the specific patient type, bringing the solution and the patient discussed to round the commitment, and closing, amongst others (Docket No. 96, Exh. 17 at p. 3). In the Form corresponding to the June 13, 2011 field ride, she recorded that plaintiff needed to develop "focus on the post-call, the openings and the conversations to f/u next visit, and therefore being more assertive in filling the need." SUMF at ¶ 40. She gave plaintiff a "needs improvement" on the "Close the Call" criterion. Id.

The 2011 mid-year review placed plaintiff's portfolio under expectations as of April, 2011, with products losing share. She was so informed and advised of the need to take ownership and accountability for success factors and career development. SUMF at ¶ 41.

In the Form corresponding to the July 11, 2011 field ride, Martínez recorded that plaintiff needed to develop rounding and closing in patient described (Docket No. 96, Exh. 19). Between August and September 2011, Brilinta became plaintiff's primary product. SUMF at ¶ 44. In the Form corresponding to the August 18, 2011 field ride, she stated to have discussed with plaintiff concision in conversations, that plaintiff had improved a lot, that being specific would help her accomplish two product discussions, that pre-planning would be crucial in defining openings and in engaging in questions to leverage in the new portfolio. Docket No. 96, Exhs. 20 and 30.

On September 9, 2011, Saavedra sent an e-mail to plaintiff with her feedback on a field ride they went together on Tuesday of that same week (Docket No. 96, Exh. 6). She pointed out that in order for plaintiff to continue her development with the product Brilinta and be more effective, in a...

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