Serrano-Nova v. Banco Popular De Puerto Rico, Inc.

Decision Date31 March 2003
Docket NumberNo. 00-1669 (DRD).,00-1669 (DRD).
PartiesReina SERRANO-NOVA, Plaintiff, v. BANCO POPULAR DE PUERTO RICO, INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Puerto Rico
254 F.Supp.2d 251
Reina SERRANO-NOVA, Plaintiff,
v.
BANCO POPULAR DE PUERTO RICO, INC., Defendant.
No. 00-1669 (DRD).
United States District Court, D. Puerto Rico.
March 31, 2003.

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COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

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COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

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Luis R. Mellado-Gonzalez, San Juan, PR, for Reina Serrano-Nova.

Pedro J. Manzano-Yates, Rebecca Paez-Rodriguez, Fiddler, Gonzalez & Rodriguez, San Juan, PR, for Banco Popular De Puerto Rico.

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OPINION & ORDER

DOMINGUEZ, District Judge.


Pending before the Court is Defendant's, Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, Inc., (hereinafter referred to as "Bank"or "Defendant"), Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 17), opposed by Plaintiff Reina Serrano Nova (hereinafter referred to as "Plaintiff or "Serrano") (Docket No. 26). Defendant replied through Docket No. 30, and Plaintiff thereafter sur-replied (Docket No. 34). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

I. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The Court must analyze the factual scenario in this case construing the facts, the record, and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 2110, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000)("... the Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party ..."); see also, Leahy v. Raytheon Company, 315 F.3d 11, 17 (2002) ("... the court must take the record `in the light most hospitable to the party opposing summary judgment, indulging all reasonable inferences in that party's favor'.") (quoting Griggs-Ryan v. Smith, 904 F.2d 112, 115 (1st Cir.1990); see also, Plumley v. Southern Container Inc., 303 F.3d 364, 368-69 (1st Cir.2002)).

Plaintiff Serrano Nova, a Afro-Puerto Rican woman, began working at Defendant Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, on September, 1979, until her resignation in May, 1998. Plaintiff became a full time clerk ("office clerk"), on 1979, when she commenced to work for Mr. Jesus Rodriguez Nales. In 1986, she was transferred to the Bank's Mortgage Center, where she commenced to work as "office clerk" or "assistant" to Mrs. Carmen Sandin, her supervisor, and supervisor of mortgage insurance services as well. In 1990, Mr. Francisco Segura became Mrs. Sandin's direct supervisor, as a result of the Bank's merger with former Banco de Ponce. Plaintiff reported to Mr. Segura, whenever Mrs. Sandin was not available or absent.

Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Segura criticized, admonished and "yelled"at her, in front of coworkers. Segura subjected Plaintiff to close scrutiny, and strictly monitored her work. At one point, Segura verbally admonished Plaintiff for signing in her time sheet, while being absent for work; he accused her of "stealing the Bank's time". Segura monitored Plaintiffs whereabouts more closely than other employees in the unit. Segura also utilized strong words when addressing Plaintiff and his treatment towards afro descendant employees was blatantly different from his treatment towards other employees.

On April 1, 1993, Mrs. Sandin retired. Serrano, and several other employees, applied for the position, but Mr. Jaime Bou, a white man, was instead selected to occupy the vacant position. Serrano complained of such decision to the Personnel Department, for she felt certain that she had the required experience, qualifications, and educational background to fulfill Mrs. Sandin's previous job. Plaintiff alleged Mr. Bou failed to fulfill the requirements. Not satisfied with Defendant's selection of Mr. Bou and because Mr. Segura's attitude and reprimands towards her had become unbearable, Plaintiff requested to be transferred to the Customer Service Department within the same Mortgage Division.

On mid-April 1993, she was transferred and began working at Customer Service under the supervision of Mr. Jose Francisco Colon. For the first three to four months at customer service, she had no problems, until Mr. Segura became Mr.

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Colon's supervisor. (See Plaintiffs Sworn Statement, Exh. A, to Plaintiffs Opposition, Docket No. 26). At the customer service department, she was required to personally interview clients and fill out qualification and loan applications. Soon after Mr. Segura became Mr. Colon's supervisor, Plaintiffs chores changed. Around May/June 1994, she was instead ordered to answer phones and was transferred to a "dark"cubicle, where all she did was attend phone inquiries and complaints from clients; this customized service was commonly known as the "ACD" system. Mr. Segura still monitored her closely. Plaintiff thereafter began receiving negative performance evaluations, which allegedly presented obstacles in obtaining other job opportunities within the bank. Plaintiff received memos for her resistance to attend clients' calls and inquiries at the "dark" cubicle.

On October 1994, Plaintiff reported to the State Insurance Fund, as a result of mental depression symptoms. She returned to work on mid May 1995, though she was still assigned to the "ACD" system, in disregard of an accommodation ordered by the SIF's psychiatrist for a change in her working conditions. No accommodation was provided. During her tenure at the Customer Service Department, supervisors commented that they did not like Plaintiff and other female afro descendent coworkers because they were "negritas" ("blacks").1 She was thereafter denied transfers and promotions2 until finally transferred to the Automobile Insurance Division on May, 1997.3 Her 1996 and 1997 evaluations were negative as well. At one point, at the Automobile Division she was accused of having responded inadequately through the phone, to a fellow employee from Ponce. That incident took place on November 5, 1997; on that date, she received a memo or written reprimand.

On July 31, 1997, Plaintiff addressed a letter to the Personnel Department, complaining of her 1996 performance evaluations4, wherein she specifically expressed that notwithstanding all her efforts, "[apparently none of this is important when one is dark skinned and all efforts made are ignored, they are useless".5 Plaintiff contends that at no time the Bank conducted an investigation regarding Plaintiffs complaints. At this last job, Plaintiff was regularly visited and questioned by Human Resources specialists, and was denied training opportunities for she found herself in a group of "misfits", commonly known and referred to as the "incapacitated". Plaintiff avers that there was an unwritten law, or practice, at the Bank to avoid and impede designation of black individuals in supervisory positions.6

Plaintiff, because of her mental depression symptoms, again sought treatment at

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the SIF on December 24, 1997, and took a leave of absence. She never returned to work. Instead, on April 27, 1998, she submitted a resignation letter stating she was leaving the Bank, effective April 30th, due to the continuous discrimination and intolerable racial harassment she had been subjected to. Her resignation actually became effective May 14, 1998. Serrano filed charges of discrimination with the Anti Discrimination Unit of the Puerto Rico's Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on November 12, 1998, stating that the last discriminatory act on behalf of the Bank took place on May 14,1998 (date her resignation became effective)7. The EEOC issued the corresponding "right-to-sue" letter on February 28, 2000.

On May 30, 2000, Plaintiff Serrano, filed the instant complaint against her former employer, Banco Popular, alleging violations to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and Puerto Rico's anti-discrimination statute, Law No. 100, 29 P.R. Laws Ann. § 146 et seq. Plaintiff also claims compensation for damages suffered pursuant to Article 1802 of the Puerto Rico Civil Code, 31 P.R. Laws Ann. § 5141. Plaintiffs complaint specifically alleges three adverse employment actions on behalf of Defendant Bank, to wit, (i) that Defendant denied her training, promotions, and transfers because of her race and color; (ii) that Defendant subjected her to a hostile work environment racial harassment; (iii) and that harassment became so unbearable, that resulted in her constructive discharge. (Complaint, H 1).

Defendant Bank moves for summary judgment on three grounds: (i) that Plaintiff did not adduce sufficient evidence to sustain her constructive discharge claim; (ii) that Plaintiffs Title VII claims for denial of training, failure to promote, etc., and hostile work environment racial harassment are time-barred, for Plaintiff did not file a timely complaint at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and; (iii) that Plaintiff failed to support an adverse employment action, for she was not able to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. (Docket No. 17).

Plaintiff opposed summary judgment, alleging that the discriminatory acts of Defendant's supervisors and officials were continuous in nature and that Serrano did not realize until at least 2-3 months before she resigned that she had been subject and victim of racial harassment. (Plaintiffs Opposition, Docket No. 26). Plaintiff consequently avers that since the last alleged discriminatory act, i.e., constructive discharge, took place within the three hundred (300) days prior to filing the complaint at the EEOC, her Title VII claims are not time-barred. Plaintiff also contends that her working conditions supported to actionable harassment and constructive discharge. She further alleges that Defendant's failure to promote and train her was discriminatory in nature.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STADARDS

The standard for summary judgment has been revisited by the First Circuit Court of Appeals on several occasions. Serapion v. Martinez, 119 F.3d 982, 986 (1st Cir.1997) (citing McCarthy v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 56 F.3d 313, 315 (1st Cir.1995),...

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