Lopez-Rosario v. Programa Seasonal Head Start/Early Head Start De La Diocesis De Mayaguez, Civil No. 14–1713 (FAB)

Citation245 F.Supp.3d 360
Decision Date29 March 2017
Docket NumberCivil No. 14–1713 (FAB)
Parties Aljadi LOPEZ–ROSARIO, et al., Plaintiffs, v. PROGRAMA SEASONAL HEAD START/EARLY HEAD START DE LA DIOCESIS DE MAYAGUEZ, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Puerto Rico

Carlos A. Caban–Rodriguez, Aguadilla, PR, Eugenio W.A. Geigel–Simounet, Law Offices of Wilfredo A. Geigel, St. Croix, VI, for Plaintiffs.

Jesus R. Morales–Cordero, Morales Cordero, CSP, San Juan, PR, for Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

BESOSA, District Judge.

Aljadi Lopez–Rosario ("Lopez–Rosario"), with his wife and son, brought suit against his former employer, Programa Seasonal Head Start/Early Head Start de la Diocesis de Mayagüez ("Programa"); its board of directors; and its executive director (collectively "Programa Defendants") alleging that they took negative employment action against him in violation of the Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. , 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985, and several Puerto Rico statutes. (Docket No. 1.) The Court granted the Programa's motion to dismiss, terminating the case, (Docket Nos. 21, 22), but reconsidered its decision and reopened the case to allow Lopez–Rosario's ADEA and Puerto Rico law claims to proceed, (Docket No. 30).1 Before the Court is the Programa defendants' motion for summary judgment, (Docket No. 46), plaintiffs' opposition, (Docket No. 54), and the Programa defendants' reply, (Docket No. 62). For the reasons below, the Court GRANTS the Programa defendants' motion for summary judgment.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

The role of summary judgment is to "pierce the boilerplate of the pleadings and assay the parties' proof in order to determine whether trial is actually required." Tobin v. Fed. Exp. Corp. , 775 F.3d 448, 450 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoIting Wynne v. Tufts Univ. Sch. of Med. , 976 F.2d 791, 794 (1st Cir. 1992) ). Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, but disregarding unsupported and conclusory allegations, McGrath v. Tavares , 757 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2014), "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. A fact is "material" if it has the potential to "affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Miranda–Rivera v. Toledo–Davila , 813 F.3d 64, 69 (1st Cir. 2016) ; see also Maldonado–Denis v. Castillo–Rodriguez , 23 F.3d 576, 581 (1st Cir. 1994) (stating that a "material" issue of fact is one that "needs to be resolved before the related legal issue can be decided"). A dispute is "genuine" when it "could be resolved in favor of either party." Guerra–Delgado v. Popular, Inc. , 774 F.3d 776, 782 (1st Cir. 2014).

The party moving for summary judgment has the initial burden of "demonstrat [ing] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Campos v. Van Ness , 711 F.3d 243, 247 (1st Cir. 2013). The party must demonstrate this absence with definite and competent evidence. See Maldonado–Denis , 23 F.3d at 581 (citing Mesnick v. Gen. Elec. Co. , 950 F.2d 816, 822 (1st Cir. 1991) ). It must identify "materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, ... admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials" which support its motion. Flood v. Bank of Am. Corp. , 780 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir. 2015) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) ). Once a properly supported motion has been presented, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party "to demonstrate that a trier of fact reasonably could find in [its] favor." Santiago–Ramos v. Centennial P.R. Wireless Corp. , 217 F.3d 46, 52 (1st Cir. 2000) (internal citation omitted). "When the nonmovant bears the burden of proof on a particular issue, [he or] she can thwart summary judgment only by identifying competent evidence in the record sufficient to create a jury question." Tobin v. Fed. Exp. Corp. , 775 F.3d 448, 450–51 (1st Cir. 2014).

BACKGROUND
A. The Programa

The Programa is a not-for-profit corporation incorporated in Puerto Rico, (Docket No. 60–37), with its main office in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, (Docket No. 70–33 at p. 2). The Diocesis of the Catholic Church of Mayagüez organizes and directs the Programa and the Bishop of Mayagüez is the president of the Board of Trustees. (Docket No. 73–33 at p. 4.) The Board of Directors and Council for Regulation Policy, both governing board of directories, manage the Programa. (Docket Nos. 60–2 at p. 7; 73–33 at pp. 4–7; 73–34 at p. 2.) Carrero is the executive director of the Programa. (Docket No. 60–3 at p. 2.)

The Programa receives federal funds and uses them to operate "Head Start Program" pre-school care centers. (Docket Nos. 60–3 at p. 3; 60–34 at pp. 2–4.) In fiscal year 20092010, the Programa received more federal funding than usual, in the amount of $1.5 million, which was used for payroll, recruitment of new employees, and other purposes. (Docket Nos. 55–3 at p. 5; 55–4 at pp. 4–5; 55–5 at p. 3.) In fiscal year 20122013, the Programa's budget was $3.8 million. (Docket No. 55–4 at p. 4.) In 2013, The Programa closed a center in Maricao, which reduced the Programa's spending for that year and led to the relocation of employees. (Docket No. 55–5 at pp. 12–13.) The Programa opened a new center in Hormigueros in 2015. (Docket No. 55–4 at p. 2.) The Programa also opened centers in Cabo Rojo and Lajas and hired fifty new employees. (Docket No. 55–4 at p. 5.) In 2015, the Programa administered one care center in each of five municipalities on the West Coast of Puerto Rico—San German, Lajas, Las Marias, Añasco, and Cabo Rojo. (Docket No. 60–35 at p. 9.)

B. Lopez–Rosario's Employment with the Programa

Lopez–Rosario was born on March 26, 1963. (Docket No. 60–3 at p. 2.) The Programa hired Lopez–Rosario in 2002. (Docket No. 60–3 at p. 5.) Lopez–Rosario signed two employment contracts, one in 2002 and another in 2007, both for the position of driver/handyman. (Docket Nos. 73–35 at p. 1; 73–36 at p. 1.) The 2007 contract states that the "[Programa] is not obligated to renew this agreement annually with [Lopez–Rosario] if ... [there is an i]nsufficiency of Federal funds to continue paying for the position and salary." (Docket No. 73–36 at p. 2.) Lopez–Rosario performed duties of a driver and of a handyman. (Docket No. 55–5 at p. 7.) Also, each year, Lopez–Rosario signed a Change Report for Personnel Transactions, which listed his position as driver/handyman. (Docket No. 73–37.)

During his employment, Lopez–Rosario received written warnings. First, in June 2011, Lopez–Rosario received a warning emphasizing the importance of maintaining an accurate time-log. (Docket No. 73–31 at pp. 16–17.) In August 2011, he received a letter about the same behavior on three separate occasions. Id. at p. 15. Next, he received three letters, a labor performance warning, and an incident report for failing to turn in maintenance reports in November 2011. Id. at pp. 9–14. He received another incident report for failing to attend a training in September 2012. Id. at p. 8. Finally, he received three incident reports for failing to attend a mandatory recreational activity on November 29, 2012. Id. at pp. 2–7. Carrero told Lopez–Rosario that he was "no longer useful as a handyman anymore." (Docket No. 55–2 at pp. 6–7.)

C. Other Employees

The Programa also employed Harry Muñoz ("Muñoz") as a driver/handyman until he left in June 2013. (Docket Nos. 44 at p. 5; 55 at p. 3.) Muñoz is likely over fifty years old. (Docket No. 55–2 at p. 9.) Additionally, the Programa employs Angel Ruiz ("Ruiz") as a handyman. (Docket No. 55–5 at p. 8.) Ruiz is younger than Lopez–Rosario and had less years of service than he. (Docket No. 55–3 at p. 3.) Ruiz, who is "around his 40s" in age, works full-time and is still employed by the Programa. (Docket Nos. 55–2 at p. 9; 55–3 at p. 3.)

The driver/handyman and handyman positions are listed in the Programa's roster as separate positions. (Docket Nos. 44 at pp. 5–6; 55 at p. 3; 73–18; 73–19.) The positions share several requirements, descriptions, minimum skills, and definitions, but also have several differences. Compare Docket No. 73–18, with Docket No. 73–19. The handyman position requires the employee to have basic knowledge and skills of general repairs, carpentry, masonry, plumbing, electricity, and basic maintenance tools. (Docket No. 73–19 at pp. 1–2.) Both positions require the employee to inspect and identify items requiring maintenance or repair and to participate and collaborate to correct any deficiency. (Docket Nos. 73–18 at pp. 7–8; 73–19 at p. 2.) The driver/handyman position also requires training, licensing, and experience driving heavy or passenger transportation vehicles in order to perform the additional task of transporting the Programa students and family members. (Docket No. 73–18 at pp. 1–3.)

D. Reduction of Federal Funds and Budget Cuts

In early March 2013, the Programa received a letter from the National Head Start Office Director informing it that due to a "sequester" of federal funds, the Programa would need to reduce its budget by 5.27%. (Docket Nos. 73–3 at pp. 1–2; 60–35 at p. 3; 60–10 at p. 1.) In response, in late March 2013, the board of directors convened an austerity committee and adopted its recommendations on how to cut expenses, including transportation service expenses. See Docket Nos. 73–4; 73–5 at p. 2; 73–6 at p. 3. On April 9, 2013, the Programa issued a memorandum outlining the actions it planned to take in order to reduce the operational budget in response to the sequestration of funds. See Docket No. 60–8 at pp. 1–2. In that memorandum, the Programa established its plans to:

– Interrupt the contractual relationship with the renter of the storage facilities in San German from the month of June to the present[ ]
– Reduce by 15% all the corresponding utilities (materials, equipment purchases, electricity, water, gas, etc.) (imme
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