First Circuit Declines to Lower Back Pay To Prevailing Female Worker in Bias Suit

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May 20 — The Puerto Rican Maritime Transport Authority isn't entitled to reduction of a $95,750 back pay award granted by a jury to a female employee who alleged that she didn't receive a promotion because of her sex, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled May 16 .  

Affirming a trial court's denial of remittitur to Autoridad de Transporte Maritime y la Islas Municipio (MTA), the First Circuit found that the authority failed to show that damages to Laura Climent-Garcia should be limited in duration based on the 14-month period in which the male worker selected for promotion allegedly held the interim position.

Nothing in the evidentiary record showed that the position “had a predetermined end date,” and witness testimony indicated that its duration “may be indefinite or undetermined,” the court said.

In addition, the court rejected the MTA's argument that the jury award failed to properly offset overtime pay received by Climent-Garcia. The authority presented only “scant evidence” of any overtime wages paid to Climent-Garcia, such that it “cannot say that no rational jury could have calculated Climent's damages without offsetting overtime,” the court said.

Judge Juan R. Torruella wrote the opinion, joined by Judges Sandra L. Lynch and Kermit V. Lipez.

Jury Ruled in Favor of Worker

According to the court, Climent-Garcia worked as an operations supervisor at an MTA ferry terminal in Fajardo, Puerto Rico.

In July 2007, the authority's human resources director recommended Climent-Garcia for an interim maritime transport administrator position at a terminal in San Juan, Puerto Rico. However, Juan Cirino-Martinez, the MTA's executive director, allegedly expressed skepticism about selecting Climent-Garcia because her “childcare responsibilities would make commuting from Fajardo to San Juan for work inappropriate,” the court recounted.

Climent-Garcia overheard the conversation, expressed interest in the position and insisted that she would make appropriate child-care arrangements. Cirino-Martinez purportedly responded that only males staffed the San Juan terminal and that he'd already selected a male, Stanley Mulero, for the position.

Climent-Garcia sued for sex discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Puerto Rico law. Her claim went to the jury, which awarded her $50,000 in compensatory damages and $97,750 in back pay, ultimately doubling the award to $291,500 pursuant to Puerto Rico law. The U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico denied the MTA's attempt to reduce the back pay award.

Court Upholds Back Pay Award

On appeal, the MTA argued that Climent-Garcia should be eligible for only 14 months of back pay, corresponding with the time period in which Mulero held the administrator position.

Disagreeing, the First Circuit pointed out that the MTA “significantly mischaracterize[d]” testimony from Mulero in which he discussed receiving a merit raise after 14 months, and that testimony from other officials indicated that the “duration of an interim post may be indefinite or undetermined.”

The authority presented only “scant evidence” of any overtime wages paid to Climent-Garcia, such that it “cannot say that no rational jury could have calculated Climent's damages without offsetting overtime,” the First Circuit said.

Although Mulero eventually left the position, the MTA offered no evidence on when he departed and whether it coincided with the end of the interim post, the court said.

As such, a jury had no evidence to determine that if Climent-Garcia had received the promotion, she would have ended her tenure on the same date as Mulero or couldn't have served in the position until trial.

The appeals court also found no merit in the MTA's contention that the jury failed to offset Climent-Garcia's overtime pay. The court said the MTA, among other things, offered no “extrinsic evidence in the form of pay stubs or records to support its calculations.”

“This scant evidence cannot carry the day,” the court said.

Puerto Rico Legal Advocates represented the MTA. Guerrero-Calderon & Irizarry-Cuebas represented Climent-Garcia.

Text of the opinion is available at ClimentGarcia_v_Autoridad_de_Transporte_Docket_ No_1202442_1st_Cir.

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