WILBUR L. HOFFMAN-GARCIA, Plaintiff, Appellant,
METROHEALTH, INC., d/b/a HOSPITAL METROPOLITANO Defendant, Appellee, ZORAIDA I. RODRIGUEZ-DIAZ; CONJUGAL PARTNERSHIP HOFFMAN-RODRIGUEZ Plaintiffs, KAREN ARTAU-FELICIANO; FACILITIES SERVICES MANAGEMENT & MAINTENANCE, INC.; IAN RODRÍGUEZ-ALVARADO; XYZ INSURANCE CORP.; AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL INSURANCE GROUP, INC. (AIG), Defendants.
From The United States District Court For The District Of
Puerto Rico [Hon. Pedro A. Delgado-Hernández, U.S.
Morales-Perez on brief for appellant.
José R. González-Nogueras, Lloyd Isgut-Rivera,
and Pizarro & González, on brief for appellee.
Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Boudin, Circuit Judges.
Boudin, Circuit Judge.
Hoffman-García ("Hoffman") was employed by
Hospital Metropolitano in San Juan, Puerto Rico, from 1995
until 2012, when he was laid off. At the time of his
termination he served as Physical Plant Director, and his
duties included handling maintenance issues, managing the
Physical Plant Department's budget, overseeing utilities
management and repairs, attending meetings with other senior
personnel at the hospital, procuring supplies to keep the
hospital in good physical condition, hiring contractors to
perform larger projects, and maintaining premises safety and
hospital explained Hoffman's dismissal as part of an
effort to cut costs, as it subsequently hired an outside
contractor to perform maintenance services. Along with
Hoffman, the hospital laid off all of the staff employed in
the Physical Plant Department, including Hoffman's
deputy, Giovanni Martínez. However, Martínez
was rehired some months later for the newly created position
of Safety Officer. Hoffman calls the rehiring of
Martínez instead of him discriminatory based on age,
but Hoffman did not apply for the position of Safety Officer
when it became available. Martínez was thirty-six
years old at the time he was rehired, while Hoffman was
sued the hospital under the Age Discrimination in Employment
Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634, and
Puerto Rico antidiscrimination and tort law. Following
discovery, the district court granted in part the
hospital's summary judgment motion, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56,
finding that the hospital had facially legitimate,
non-discriminatory grounds to close the Physical Plant
Department and to terminate Hoffman's position; but
absent trial, the court declined to decide whether the
hospital treated age neutrally when it rehired
Martínez rather than Hoffman. Hoffman-Garcia v.
Metrohealth, Inc., No. 14-CV-1162, 2016 WL 4146098
(D.P.R. Aug. 3, 2016).
trial then ensued, but at the close of evidence the district
court granted the hospital's motion for judgment as a
matter of law, Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a). In that ruling, see
Hoffman-Garcia v. Metrohealth, Inc., No. 14-CV-1162,
2018 WL 671200 (D.P.R. Jan. 31, 2018), the district court
rejected Hoffman's two separate though overlapping
theories of age discrimination, the first predicated on
Hoffman's initial termination and his claim that a
younger employee (Martínez) was retained to perform
his same job function, and the second predicated on the
hospital's failure to hire Hoffman as Safety Officer and
to instead hire Martínez for that position.
court found as to both theories that the position of Safety
Officer varied significantly in its duties and requirements
from those of Physical Plant Director and that the two were
not "situated similarly in all relevant aspects,"
Cardona Jimenez v. Bancomercio de Puerto Rico, 174
F.3d 36, 42 (1st Cir. 1999). Further, Hoffman never applied
for the position of Safety Officer, which undercut his
argument that he had experienced an adverse employment
action. Cf. Velez v. Janssen Ortho, LLC, 467 F.3d
802, 807-08 (1st Cir. 2006). The court therefore dismissed
the ADEA claim as a matter of law. See, e.g.,
Del Valle-Santana v. Servicios Legales de Puerto Rico,
Inc., 804 F.3d 127, 131-32 (1st Cir. 2015) (affirming
dismissal for failure to establish prima facie case of
court also granted judgment as a matter of law to the
hospital on Hoffman's two surviving Puerto Rico law
claims, one of which alleged age discrimination, P.R. Laws
Ann. tit. 29, § 146 et seq., and the other of
which alleged unjust discharge from employment, P.R. Laws
Ann. tit. 29, § 185a et seq. As to these two
claims, the court found that the closure of the
hospital's Physical Plant Department for business reasons
constituted just cause, that nobody was hired to perform the
duties or job earlier held by Hoffman, and that given the
similarities between the burden-shifting framework governing
ADEA claims and the test for the Puerto Rico Law claims,
Caraballo-Cecilio v. Marina PDR Tallyman LLC,
14-CV-1454, 2016 WL 6068117, at *2-3 (D.P.R. Oct. 13, 2016),
the same analysis governed.
now appeals, claiming that the court erred in granting
judgment as a matter of law to the hospital and that a jury
question existed as to the hospital's motivations in
rehiring Martínez rather than Hoffman for the position
of Safety Officer. Such claims are reviewed de novo,
Delgado v. Pawtucket Police Dep't, 668 F.3d 42,
50 (1st Cir. 2012), taking the evidence in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party, Malone v. Lockheed
Martin Corp., 610 F.3d 16, 20 (1st Cir. 2010). This
court asks whether in the trial record a rational jury could
find in favor of Hoffman. Wilson v. Moreau, 492 F.3d
50, 52 (1st Cir. 2007).
brief principally seizes on language from the district
court's oral announcement and subsequent written order of
its decision which mentions the uncontradicted testimony from
José Samuel Rosado, the hospital's director, that
age did not factor in his decision to rehire Martínez
and that because the safety officer position was inferior in
authority and salary to Hoffman's prior position, he did
not believe that Hoffman would have been interested. Hoffman
ties this in with various cases noting the traditional rule
that in the Rule 50 context it is improper to consider the
credibility of witnesses, see, e.g., Barkan v.
Dunkin' Donuts, Inc., 627 F.3d 34, 39 (1st Cir.
2010), such matters being the province of the jury.
problem for Hoffman is that much of Rosado's testimony
and the district court's mention of it were beside the
point: here, Hoffman plainly failed to meet his burden of
showing that his previous position of Physical Plant
Director, or a position involving comparable duties and
responsibilities at the hospital, was subsequently filled by
a younger person, or that he applied for a position and did
not get the job because the employer preferred a younger
candidate. Under the burden shifting framework of
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 ...