MARÍA I. VILLENEUVE, Plaintiff, Appellant,
AVON PRODUCTS, INC., Defendant, Appellee.
FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
PUERTO RICO [Hon. Daniel R. Domínguez, U.S. District
M. Frontera-Suau, with whom Kenneth Colón and Frontera
Suau Law Offices, PSC were on brief, for appellant.
Elizabeth Pérez-Lleras, with whom Lourdes C.
Hernández-Venegas and Schuster Aguiló LLC were
on brief, for appellee.
Torruella, Thompson, and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.
THOMPSON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
diversity case - governed by Puerto Rico law, as the parties
agree (Puerto Rico is a "state" for
diversity-jurisdiction purposes thanks to 28 U.S.C. §
1332(e)) - María Villeneuve contests the district
judge's orders jettisoning her discrimination claims
against her former employer, Avon Products, Inc. (just
"Avon" from now on). Detecting no reversible error,
THE CASE GOT HERE
the judge kicked out Villeneuve's claims on Avon's
motions to dismiss and for summary judgment (the judge should
have treated the first motion as a motion for judgment on the
pleadings, for reasons we will get to), we sketch the
pertinent events in the light most flattering to her cause.
See, e.g., Small Justice LLC v. Xcentric
Ventures LLC, 873 F.3d 313, 323 (1st Cir. 2017);
Estate of Bennett v. Wainwright, 548 F.3d 155, 159
(1st Cir. 2008).
Stint at Avon
January 1998, when she was 30 years old, Villeneuve started
working as a "Caribbean Zone Manager" for Avon, a
multinational cosmetics, fashion, and accessories company.
Sometime in 2005 (the record does not say exactly when), she
became a "District Zone Manager." And several years
later, in May or June 2012, she became a "Caribbean Call
Center Correspondent" ("Caribbean CCC," for
short), though her salary was the same as her District Zone
Manager salary. Avon terminated her employment effective July
11, 2014. She was 47 years old on the day Avon let her go.
Suit Against Avon
with this turn of events, Villeneuve filed this lawsuit
against Avon in November 2014. Stripped to its essence, her
complaint alleged that Avon had discriminated against her by
firing her because of her age and because of her
affectionate, "longstanding" relationship with an
attorney "of a different gender" who had sued Avon
"several" times before on behalf of other former
Avon employees - a relationship that Avon knew about.
Consistent with the judge and the parties, we refer to the
claim involving her "longstanding affective
partner" as the "sexual-orientation-discrimination
claim." According to her complaint, the discrimination
in question violated two Puerto Rico statutes: P.R. Laws Ann.
tit. 29, § 185a - a law commonly called "Law
80"; and P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 29, § 146 - a law
colloquially called "Law 100." As relevant here,
Law 80 requires an employer to "[i]ndemni[fy]" the
employee if the employer terminates her "without just
cause." See P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 29, §
185a. And Law 100 outlaws employment practices that
discriminate against persons on the basis of "age"
or "sexual orientation." See P.R. Laws
Ann. tit. 29, § 146.
Partial Motion to Dismiss and the Judge's Ruling
answering Villeneuve's complaint, Avon filed a motion to
dismiss the sexual-orientation-discrimination claim against
it - citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In its memo supporting its
dismissal motion, Avon stressed how Law 100 forbids an
employer from firing an employee because of the
employee's sexual orientation. And Avon quoted a 2013
amendment to Law 100, which provides that "sexual
[m]eans the ability of any person of having an emotional,
affectional, or sexual attachment to persons of the other
gender, the same gender, or more than one gender. . . . [T]o
accomplish all the purposes provided herein, this definition
shall be interpreted as broadly as possible to extend the
benefits thereof to any citizen who is a victim of
discrimination, whether it is a onetime event or a pattern.
See P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 29, § 151(7). With that
foundation in place, Avon revealed its big argument - that
Villeneuve's allegations of being "in a relationship
with a lawyer who has sued Avon in the past"
did not put her in a "protected class." In other
words, because, according to Avon, Villeneuve "bases
her" sexual-orientation-discrimination claim "on
the profession and conduct of the person she is dating,
i.e., an attorney who has sued Avon," her
allegations have "nothing to do with [her] sexual
orientation" -which excludes her from the class
protected by Law 100. And Avon saw no basis for extending Law
100's protections to cover such a situation.
countered that because she alleged "Avon took into
account the specific and affectionate relationship she had
with said lawyer when deciding . . . her employment status at
the company" - i.e., because she alleged this
"affectionate and romantic relationship . . . was a
motivating factor" in her firing
had "protected status under Puerto Rico Law." Which
is why, her argument continued, the judge had to deny
Avon's partial motion to dismiss.
judge, for his part, sided with Avon. Noting that Law 100
bans an employer from terminating an employee "because
of" the employee's "sexual orientation,"
the judge ruled that an employee's "being terminated
because the employer disapproves of the professional legal
conduct of the romantic partner . . . is not . . . a
discriminating event within the law." So the judge
granted Avon's motion and dismissed Villeneuve's
Motion for Summary Judgment and the Judge's
of discovery ensued, culminating in Avon's moving for
summary judgment on Villeneuve's remaining claims - age
discrimination under Law 100 and unjust discharge under Law
80. Its summary-judgment submissions told the following
time of her firing, Villeneuve worked as a Caribbean CCC at
Avon's Call Center. Overseen by Carmen Miranda, the Head
of the Avon Customer Care Department, the Call Center
employed a number of Call Center Correspondents
("CCCs," from now on). But Villeneuve was the only
Caribbean CCC there.
charge of dealing with the Caribbean," Villeneuve's
duties included training Avon's Puerto Rico and Caribbean
"representatives" to "place orders
online"; "perform[ing] welcome calls for new
representatives"; "mak[ing] past-due collection
calls to representatives in the Caribbean";
"handling calls in English" and "provid[ing]
English materials" on "request." She was also
required to be bilingual; to send emails to representatives
in the Caribbean reminding them of events happening in the
Caribbean; and to travel within and outside Puerto Rico.
CCCs, on the other hand, did not make calls on past-due
orders; did not travel within or outside Puerto Rico; and
only needed a basic knowledge of English.
with Avon Puerto Rico's lack of growth, Adnauer Amorin,
Avon's General Manager for Puerto Rico and Canada,
ordered a reorganization - which required a reduction in
personnel. Department heads in Puerto Rico had to achieve a
certain level of savings, for example, with Miranda asked to
shave $300, 000 from the Customer Care Department's
budget. And after reviewing the situation, Miranda concluded
that the Caribbean CCC's workload did not justify what
Avon was paying Villeneuve. So Avon terminated Villeneuve,
abolishing the Caribbean CCC job and transferring her duties
to other positions.
Villeneuve was not the only person let go because of the
reorganization, Avon was quick to point out. Several other
employees in five departments - Customer Care, Sales, IT,
Supply Chain, and Finance - lost their jobs
Five firees were younger than Villeneuve, Avon added. And
three were older.
said its piece on the facts, Avon made a multifaceted
argument for why it should win at the summary-judgment stage
(we highlight its main points). For starters, Avon contended
that because Villeneuve had lost her job as part of "a
bona fide reorganization, . . . implemented to
obtain cost savings, optimize the [c]ompany's
resources," and "increase its profits and
competitiveness," she could not establish a prima
facie case of age discrimination under Law 100. Next,
Avon argued that even assuming Villeneuve had a prima
facie case, she could not show that the articulated
rationale was pretextual. And because she was fired during a
"bona fide reorganization," her
"termination was with just cause" - which means (at
least in Avon's view) that her Law 80 claim was a no-go.
memo opposing summary judgment insisted that Avon got all the
important things dead wrong. She claimed, for instance, that
her duties as Caribbean CCC were "essentially the
same" as the CCCs. She also claimed that they had the
same direct supervisor; attended meetings called by that
supervisor; got "the same training" on "Avon
products and campaigns"; and "shared the same work
schedule and the same evaluation performance forms." And
she claimed that a "substantially younger" Avon
employee assumed her duties after her termination.
from the facts to the law, Villeneuve complained that Avon
had not carried its burden under Law 80 of showing just cause
for her termination, principally because it based its
"bona fide reorganization" theory on
inadmissible hearsay evidence. And even if the evidence were
admissible, the evidence in no way indicates Avon faced a
decrease in sales or revenues so substantial as to
"put at risk the continuity of the business,"
thus necessitating a reorganization - or so she protested.
She also argued that Avon failed to give her seniority
preference over her coworkers in "the same occupational
classification." As for the Law 100 matter, Villeneuve
contended that Avon's proffered explanation was merely a
pretext for unlawful age discrimination, especially since a
younger employee assumed her former duties.
the issues teed up for decision, the district judge ruled
this way. The judge first decided that Avon's evidence
established Villeneuve was a legitimate casualty of a
bona fide reorganization - legitimate, because Avon
ordered the reorganization to combat the Puerto Rico
operation's "lack of growth and to generate
savings," not to discriminate against her on age
grounds. On the age-discrimination point, the judge found
that a "bona fide reorganization" led to
the firing of eight employees - three of whom "were less
than 40 years old" at the time (including one who was
29), while Villeneuve (don't forget) was 47. So
"Avon's bona fide reorganization was not
motivated by age discrimination, but [by] economic
reasons," and was thus done with just cause. Villeneuve
also showed "no evidence" of pretext, the judge
added. Ultimately, because she "failed to show a
prima facie case of age discrimination under Law
100," and because "Avon's reorganization was
performed 'with good cause' under Law 80," the
judge granted Avon's summary-judgment
with the judge's dismissal and summary-judgment rulings,
Villeneuve appeals. She and Avon make an array of arguments
in support of their positions. And we address them below,
adding more details as we go along. But first, a quick primer
on the workings of the statutory system in vogue ...