Wyndham Sales Rep Can't Prove Harassment, Retaliation

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By Jon Steingart

July 20 — A Hispanic Wyndham Vacation Resorts Inc. sales representative in Puerto Rico who complained about her supervisor's racist and sexist comments can't proceed on her claim that she was retaliated against in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a federal appeals court ruled July 17.

Affirming summary judgment for Wyndham, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit said Carmen Planadeball failed to show evidence of a causal link between her complaints and the corporate office's cancellation of her commission on a sale.

The court also said she was unable to demonstrate that her supervisor's threatening her with termination because of her low sales figures was a pretext for retaliation. And the timing of her lawsuit in relation to a new supervisor's negative change in attitude toward her wasn't enough to show one led to the other, the court said.

Judge Kermit V. Lipez wrote the opinion, joined by Judges O. Rogeriee Thompson and David J. Barron.

Racist, Sexist Comments Spawned Complaints

Planadeball sold vacations for the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.

She alleged that the sales manager, Shawyn Maley made derogatory comments about Puerto Ricans and blacks, referred to the island as a trash can and instructed sales representatives to avoid dealing with black customers because “they were more than likely to have bad credit.”

Maley also made lewd and sexist comments about his colleagues, in one instance describing how the ideal woman's body would include a chest and rear end resembling those of two of Planadeball's co-workers, she alleged.

Planadeball complained to Maley about his comments, which angered him, she said. She also complained to the regional vice president of sales but refused to formally file a complaint with the human resources department out of fear of losing her job.

A short time after she complained to the vice president, Planadeball took a two-week medical leave of absence for a scheduled surgery.

When she returned, she met with Maley to discuss her performance. Maley told Planadeball she needed to improve her sales figures or else he would fire her.

Around the same time, Planadeball learned her commission on a sale had been canceled. Someone in the corporate office canceled the sale and subsequently entered a sale with the same client, receiving the commission instead of her.

After these incidents, Planadeball complained to HR, but she didn't fully participate in the ensuing investigation because she feared losing her job. After completing its investigation, the company concluded that it couldn't substantiate her charges. Wyndham transferred Maley to another location a few weeks later and appointed a new supervisor in his place, the court said.

Eleven months later, Planadeball sued, alleging harassment based on her race and national origin and retaliation for complaining about Maley's conduct. After she sued, her new supervisor treated her dismissively and stopped allowing her to interact with clients, Planadeball alleged. The U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico granted summary judgment to Wyndham on all the claims. She only appealed on the retaliation claim.

No Link to Support Retaliation

Wyndham conceded that the harms Planadeball alleged may constitute material adverse employment actions. But the court accepted Wyndham's argument that the actions didn't qualify as retaliation because there was no evidence of a causal link between her complaints and the problems she experienced.

Planadeball failed to show the employees who canceled her sale had any knowledge of her complaints, the court said.

Although the timing of her complaints and Maley's threats to fire her raised an inference that they could be related, Planadeball couldn't show they were a pretext for retaliation because her performance actually had been lagging, the court said.

And the timing of her lawsuit and the new supervisor's change in demeanor wasn't enough to show one led to the other, the court said. Planadeball presented no evidence the new supervisor even knew about the lawsuit, it said.

Juan Rafael Davila-Diaz in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, and Mendoza Law Office in San Juan represented Planadeball. Schuster & Aguilo LLP in San Juan represented Wyndham.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at jsteingart@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

Text of the opinion is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/Planadeball_v_Wyndham_Vacation_Resorts_Inc_No_132366_2015_BL_2291.