FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
PUERTO RICO Hon. Jay A. García-Gregory, U.S. District
A. Rodríguez Muñoz, with whom Eduardo A. Vera
Ramírez, Eileen Landrón Guardiola, and
Landrón Vera, LLC were on brief, for appellant.
I. Peñagarícano-Brown, Assistant Solicitor
General, with whom Margarita L. Mercado-Echegaray, Solicitor
General, was on brief, for appellees.
Howard, Chief Judge, Lipez and Thompson, Circuit Judges.
Vilmarie Caraballo-Caraballo filed this Title VII gender
discrimination action against her employer, the Corrections
Department of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, after she was
transferred and replaced by one male employee, and then,
after the transfer of that employee, by a second male
employee. The district court granted summary judgment to the
Corrections Department, finding in its favor on
Caraballo's disparate treatment, hostile work
environment, and retaliation claims.
we affirm the court's judgment as to the latter two
claims, we find errors in its analysis of Caraballo's
disparate treatment claim. In particular, the district court
erroneously interpreted our decision in Johnson v.
University of Puerto Rico, 714 F.3d 48 (1st Cir. 2013),
to prohibit Caraballo from relying on evidence highly
relevant to the similar qualifications element of her prima
facie case -- namely, her experience in performing the job
from which she was transferred. Hence, we must vacate in part
the grant of summary judgment and remand for further
proceedings on that claim.
reviewing the district court's grant of summary judgment,
we recite the facts in the light most favorable to Caraballo.
See Burns v. Johnson, 829 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2016).
The Corrections Department hired Caraballo as a Correctional
Officer I in 1994. In 2003, it assigned her to a personnel
unit that handled the Department's radio communications
equipment, called the Radio Communication Area. During the
time relevant to this case, the unit consisted of one
supervisor, Melvin Sepúlveda-Vargas
("Sepúlveda"), and a number of subordinate
employees who represented different regions within the
Department. Caraballo was in charge of radio communications
for the Department's Northwest Region. Her
responsibilities included: inspecting and replacing radio
equipment at Department facilities, ensuring that the
Department complied with FCC guidelines, logging inventory,
transporting radio equipment, drafting various documents,
teaching cadets to use radio equipment, and making minor
January 2009, the Department assigned a male employee, Danny
Cordero-Vega ("Cordero"), to the Radio
Communications Area. Approximately two months later, the
Department transferred Caraballo out of the Radio
Communications Area and reassigned her to inmate purchases --
i.e., the commissary -- at the 705 Correctional Institution
at Bayamón Intake Center. Caraballo and
Sepúlveda asked their two commanding officers to
provide an explanation for her transfer. However, neither
officer complied with the requests, and one of the officers
instructed Sepúlveda not to intervene on
without notifying Sepúlveda, the Department assigned a
second male employee, Osvaldo Anaya Cortijo
("Anaya"), to the Radio Communications Area.
Shortly thereafter, a disagreement between Sepúlveda
and Cordero over the scope of the latter's authority came
to a head. The Department sided with Sepúlveda and
transferred Cordero out of the Radio Communications Area.
Sepúlveda then requested that the Department return
Caraballo to her former post, but the request was denied by a
commanding officer without explanation. Instead, Anaya
assumed the responsibilities that had previously been carried
out by Caraballo.
that her transfer from the Radio Communications Area to the
commissary violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964, Caraballo filed a charge of gender discrimination with
the EEOC and subsequently initiated this action in May 2012.
Her complaint alleged that the Department's decision to
transfer her and to replace her with Cordero and then Anaya
was motivated by gender discrimination. She also alleged
that the Department retaliated against her, and that she
endured a hostile work environment. The district court granted
summary judgment to the Department on each claim.
Subsequently, it denied Caraballo's motion for
reconsideration pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
59(e). This appeal followed.
challenging the district court's entry of summary
judgment on her disparate treatment claim, Caraballo contends
that the Department's initial decision to replace her
with Cordero and its subsequent decision to select Anaya --
instead of her -- as Cordero's replacement were both
based on her gender. Disparate treatment claims under Title
VII are ordinarily subject to the familiar McDonnell
Douglas burden-shifting framework. See McDonnell
Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973);
Mariani-Colón v. Dep't of Homeland Sec. ex
rel. Chertoff, 511 F.3d 216, 221 (1st Cir. 2007). At the
first step of this framework, a plaintiff has the burden to
establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, a prima facie
case of discrimination. See, e.g.,
Garmon v. Nat'l R.R. Corp., 844 F.3d 307, 313
(1st Cir. 2016). This burden is not onerous. See,
e.g., Kosereis v. Rhode Island, 331 F.3d
207, 213 (1st Cir. 2003). Indeed, the prima facie case
requires only a "small showing, " one that is
"easily made." Id. (quoting Reed v.
LePage Bakeries, Inc., 244 F.3d 254, 259 (1st ...