Morales v. Nationwide Ins. Co., No. CIV.01-1815 PG.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
Writing for the CourtPerez-Gimenez
Citation237 F.Supp.2d 147
PartiesAdianis MORALES, et al., Plaintiffs, v. NATIONWIDE INSURANCE COMPANY Defendant.
Decision Date10 December 2002
Docket NumberNo. CIV.01-1815 PG.
237 F.Supp.2d 147
Adianis MORALES, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NATIONWIDE INSURANCE COMPANY Defendant.
No. CIV.01-1815 PG.
United States District Court, D. Puerto Rico.
December 10, 2002.
As Amended January 27, 2002.

Page 148

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Page 149

Jorge L. Arroyo-Alejandro, San Juan, PR, for Plaintiffs.

Roberto Feliberti, Arturo Diaz-Angueira, Cancio, Nadal, Rivera & Diaz, San Juan, PR, for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

PEREZ-GIMENEZ, District Judge.


Defendant Nationwide Insurance Company filed a motion titled "Constitutional Challenge to the Presumption of Discrimination Contained in Section 148 of Puerto Rico's Law 100 (Local Employment Discrimination Statute)."1 (Def.'s Const.

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Challenge. Docket No. 14). Plaintiffs filed their Opposition on July 29, 2002. (Pls.' Opp'n Const. Challenge, Docket No. 22) (hereinafter "Pls.' Opp'n"). The Government of Puerto Rico filed a "Special Appearance in Opposition to the Constitutional Challenge to Law 100 Filed by Defendant Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company" on August 12, 2002. (P.R. Govt.'s Opp'n Const. Challenge, Docket No. 26) (hereinafter "Govt.'s Opp'n"). Defendant then filed its "Consolidated Reply to Plaintiff's and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Oppositions to Nationwide's Challenge to the Constitutionality of the Law 100 Presumption." (Def.'s Reply to Pls.' & P.R. Govt.'s Opp'n, Docket No. 28) (hereinafter "Def.'s Reply"). The Court is now ready to consider these motions, and GRANTS Defendant's Motion.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Adianis Morales Gerena, José H. Robles Levy, and the conjugal partnership between them, filed an action against Nationwide Insurance Company alleging sexual discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, and wrongful discharge. (Pls.' Compl., Docket No. 1). The action was brought under several federal and state statutes, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42. U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17; Puerto Rico Law No. 115 of December 20, 1991, 29 P.R. Laws Ann. §§ 194-194b; Puerto Rico Law No. 100 of June 30, 1959, 29 P.R. Laws Ann. §§ 146-151; and Puerto Rico Law No. 80 of May 30, 1976, 29 P.R. Laws Ann. §§ 185a-185m (hereinafter "Law 80"). (Pls.' Compl. at 2).

Defendant filed a motion for challenging the constitutionality under the Due Process clause of Law 100's presumption of employer discrimination. (Def.'s Const. Challenge at 10.) The alleged due process violations lie in the burden-shifting framework established by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court. First, Defendant claims that in suits under both Law 100 and Law 80 there is no rational connection between the facts proven to activate the presumption and the facts presumed. (Def.'s Const. Challenge at 12-13). All that employees must do is prove a "basic fact" of discrimination — such as that the employee was a woman, or that she was actually fired — and allege unjustified dismissal to trigger the presumption. (Def.'s Const. Challenge at 12-13). Defendant claims, however, that in an at-will employment jurisdiction like Puerto Rico, there cannot be a rational connection between an allegation of unjustified dismissal and a presumption of discrimination. (Def.'s Const. Challenge at 12-13). Moreover, proving a basic fact such as gender or actual dismissal "would still be insufficient, constitutionally speaking, to create the necessary rational relationship," since "all employees in Puerto Rico necessarily belong to one or more of the classes protected by Law 100." (Def.'s Reply at 9 n. 12, 9-10).

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Second, Defendant contends that the due process concerns are heightened by the nature of the burden that shifts. (Def.'s Reply at 10). Contrary to claims under federal anti-discrimination statutes, the presumption in section 148 of Law 100 shifts the entire burden of proof. (Def.'s Reply at 10). Law 100, then, is similar to the statutory presumptions declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in W. & Atl. R.R. v. Henderson, 279 U.S. 639, 49 S.Ct. 445, 73 L.Ed. 884 (1929), since both are given the effect of evidence "that is to prevail unless the employer can prove a negative, by a preponderance of the evidence, i.e., that its reasons for the termination of the employees was nondiscriminatory." (Def.'s Reply at 13).

Plaintiffs respond that Nationwide's due process concerns are "flawed and unfounded." (Pls.' Opp'n at 6). All that due process requires is "that the presumption not be arbitrary." (Pls.' Opp'n at 6). Thus, a presumption will be valid where the inference has a "reasonable connection to the circumstances of life as we know them." (Pls.' Opp'n at 6) (citing Tot v. United States, 319 U.S. 463, 467, 63 S.Ct. 1241, 87 L.Ed. 1519 (1943)). Plaintiffs argue that the rational connection in Law 100 "is predicated on decades of experience in the labor and civil rights arenas and in the traditional absence of a balance of power between the employers and employees." (Pls.' Opp'n at 6). The legislature, they claim, took into account "circumstances of life and common experience" when it established the statutory presumption of Law 100. (Pls.' Opp'n at 7).

In its "Special Appearance," the Government of Puerto Rico defended the constitutionality of Law 100. (Govt.'s Opp'n at 2). It stressed that the Puerto Rico Supreme Court has upheld the validity of the presumption of discrimination in Law 100 because it "obligated the plaintiff to present sufficient evidence so that `in general terms, the trier of fact have [sic] a rational basis and motive to infer that the employment action was undertaken by discriminatory reasons.'" (Govt.'s Opp'n at 5) (citing Díaz Fontánez v. Wyndham Hotel Corp., 2001 WL 1346759, at *12 (P.R.)). This reasoning, according to the Government, "is consistent with the `rational relation' doctrine established by the federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court." (Govt.'s Opp'n at 5). Moreover, the Government argues that the statute is constitutional because Puerto Rico's legislature "could have believed that Law 100 ... would further its legitimate interest in vindicating the rights of employees subject to employment discrimination." (Govt.'s Opp'n at 7-8).

DISCUSSION

Before entering into the merits of the Motion, the Court will examine the relevant provisions of Puerto Rico Law 100, its burden-shifting presumption, and its correlation with Law 80.

Puerto Rico's Law 100

discharges, lays off, or discriminates against an employee regarding his/her salary, wage pay or remuneration, terms, rank, conditions, or privileges of his/her job, or who fails or refuses to hire or rehire a person, or who limits or classifies his/her employees in any manner which tends to deprive a person of employment opportunities, or to affect his/her status as employee because of his/her age ... race, color, sex, social or national origin, social condition, political affiliation or political or religious ideology.

Law Number 100 of June 30, 1959, 29 P.R. Laws Ann. §§ 146-151 (1998) (hereinafter "Law 100"), bans employment discrimination on the basis of sex, color, race,

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origin, political or religious beliefs, social condition or political affiliation. The Act, which was enacted before Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the "ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634, imposes civil liability to any employer that 29 P.R. Laws Ann. § 146. The Puerto Rico legislature enacted this statute in light of the accelerated industrial development that Puerto Rico experienced in the late 1940's and 1950's, and in anticipation of the ensuing changes in the labor market. See 1959 P.R. Laws 100. The Puerto Rico Supreme Court has urged courts to consider the myriad social and economic values underlying Puerto Rico's labor laws when interpreting this statute. Díaz Fontánez v. Wyndham Hotel Corp., 2001 WL 1346759, at *9 (P.R.).

Law 100 also includes the following presumption of employer liability: "Any of the acts mentioned in the preceding sections shall be presumed to have been committed in violation of section 146-151 of this title, whenever the same shall have been performed without good cause. This presumption shall be of a controvertible character." 29 P.R. Laws Ann. § 148. The presumption was enacted to ease the employee's initial burden of proof when claiming discrimination. Díaz Fontánez, 2001 WL 1346759, at *9; Sandoval v. Caribe Hilton Int'l, 1999 P.R. Sup. LEXIS 172, at *27 (Naveira de Rodón, J., concurring).2 It is interpreted in light of Puerto Rico Rule of Evidence 14, which provides:

In a civil action, a presumption imposes on the party against whom it is directed the burden of proving the nonexistence of the presumed fact. If the party against whom the presumption is established fails to offer evidence showing the nonexistence of the presumed fact, the trier shall accept the existence of said fact. If evidence is introduced in support of a determination as to the nonexistence of said fact, the party wishing to rebut the presumption shall persuade the trier that nonexistence of the presumed fact is more likely than its existence.

P.R. R. Evid. 14; see also Ibáñez v. Molinos de P.R., 14 P.R. Offic. Trans. 61, 70 (1983) ("To determine the effect of a presumption it is necessary to go to the 1979 Rules of Evidence."). Law 100's presumption, then, shifts to the defendant the burden of proof, which entails a shift in both the burden of production and persuasion. Alvarez-Fonseca v. Pespi Cola of P.R., 152 F.3d 17, 27 (1st Cir.1998); Ibáñez, 14 P.R. Offic. Trans. at 70; see also id. at 66 ("Usually, the plaintiff has the burden of proof to prove his case. This implies the burden of producing the evidence and persuading the trier.").

This shift in the burden of proof has important evidentiary and procedural consequences. Under Puerto Rico law, as elsewhere in the United States, the plaintiff in a civil suit has the burden to prove his or her case. See Díaz Fontánez, 2001 WL 1346759, at *10; Ibáñez, 14 P.R. Offic. Trans. at 66. Under Law 100,...

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22 practice notes
  • Velez-Sotomayor v. Progreso Cash and Carry, Inc., No. CIV. 01-1678(JAG/ADC).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • May 7, 2003
    ...claims brought by plaintiffs pursuant to Law 80 and Law 100. Defendants assert the claims are precluded by Morales v. Nationwide Ins., 237 F.Supp.2d 147 (D.P.R.2002), which found the burden-shifting framework of Law 100 in correlation with Law 80 unconstitutional because it violates a defen......
  • Torres v. Caribbean Forms Mfr., No. CIV.00-2149(SEC).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • October 2, 2003
    ...unconstitutional. Again, Defendants are subtly trying to mislead the Court. This Court, in Morales v. Nationwide Insurance Company, 237 F.Supp.2d 147 (D.P.R. 2002) (Pérez Giménez, J.), held that the burden-shifting mechanism of Law 100 was unconstitutional, as defined by the Puerto Rico Sup......
  • Ciudadana v. Gracia, Civil No. 02-2191(DRD).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • July 21, 2003
    ...Commission, Results of the 2000gubernatorialelection, www.ceepur.net/elecciones2000/isla.php. 9. Morales v. Nationwide Insurance Co., 237 F.Supp.2d 147, 154-155 10. Id., at 155. 11. Nationwide, 237 F.Supp.2d at 155. 12. Plaintiffs' Exhibit 1, Report from "Fondo de Fianza Notarial del Colegi......
  • Reyes-Feliciano v. Marshalls, CIVIL NO. 14–1234 (PAD)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • February 9, 2016
    ...alleged. Salva v. Eagle Global Logistics, 2006 WL 2685106, *3 (D.P.R. September 18, 2016) ; Morales v. Nationwide Insurance Co., 237 F.Supp.2d 147, 152 (D.P.R.2002) ; Hernández v. Trans Oceanic Ins.Co., 151 D.P.R. 754, 774–775 (2000). The concept of just cause is dynamic, and its applicatio......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
22 cases
  • Velez-Sotomayor v. Progreso Cash and Carry, Inc., No. CIV. 01-1678(JAG/ADC).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • May 7, 2003
    ...claims brought by plaintiffs pursuant to Law 80 and Law 100. Defendants assert the claims are precluded by Morales v. Nationwide Ins., 237 F.Supp.2d 147 (D.P.R.2002), which found the burden-shifting framework of Law 100 in correlation with Law 80 unconstitutional because it violates a defen......
  • Torres v. Caribbean Forms Mfr., No. CIV.00-2149(SEC).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • October 2, 2003
    ...unconstitutional. Again, Defendants are subtly trying to mislead the Court. This Court, in Morales v. Nationwide Insurance Company, 237 F.Supp.2d 147 (D.P.R. 2002) (Pérez Giménez, J.), held that the burden-shifting mechanism of Law 100 was unconstitutional, as defined by the Puerto Rico Sup......
  • Ciudadana v. Gracia, Civil No. 02-2191(DRD).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • July 21, 2003
    ...Commission, Results of the 2000gubernatorialelection, www.ceepur.net/elecciones2000/isla.php. 9. Morales v. Nationwide Insurance Co., 237 F.Supp.2d 147, 154-155 10. Id., at 155. 11. Nationwide, 237 F.Supp.2d at 155. 12. Plaintiffs' Exhibit 1, Report from "Fondo de Fianza Notarial del Colegi......
  • Reyes-Feliciano v. Marshalls, CIVIL NO. 14–1234 (PAD)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • February 9, 2016
    ...alleged. Salva v. Eagle Global Logistics, 2006 WL 2685106, *3 (D.P.R. September 18, 2016) ; Morales v. Nationwide Insurance Co., 237 F.Supp.2d 147, 152 (D.P.R.2002) ; Hernández v. Trans Oceanic Ins.Co., 151 D.P.R. 754, 774–775 (2000). The concept of just cause is dynamic, and its applicatio......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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