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First Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment on Guard’s Disparate Treatment Claim

by Mark Wilson

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that a lower court improperly granted Puerto Rican prison officials’ summary judgment on a female guard’s gender discrimination claim.

Vilmarie Caraballo-Caraballo was hired as a guard by the Corrections Department of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in 1994. She was assigned to the department’s Radio Communications Area in 2003 where she remained for six years.

Caraballo was responsible for inspecting and replacing radio equipment, ensuring compliance with FCC guidelines, logging inventory, transporting radio equipment, drafting documents, teaching cadets to use radio equipment, and making minor repairs of the department’s radio communications in the Northwest Region. Although Caraballo only had a high school education when she was assigned to the Radio Communications Area, she gained considerable experience while employed there for six years.

In January 2009, prison officials assigned male employee Danny Cordero-Vega to the Radio Communication Area. Two months later, Caraballo was reassigned to the Intake Center’s prisoner commissary.

Caraballo and her Radio Communication supervisor Melvin Sepúlveda-Vargas asked their superiors why she was transferred. Neither supervisor responded, and Sepúlveda was warned not to intervene on Caraballo’s behalf.

Prison officials then assigned a second male employee, Osvaldo Anaya Cortijo, to the Radio Communications Area without notifying Sepúlveda. A disagreement soon arose between Sepúlveda and Cordero concerning the scope of Cordero’s authority. Prison officials sided with Sepúlveda and transferred Cordero out of the Radio Communications Area.

Sepúlveda requested that Caraballo be returned to her former post, but a commanding officer denied the request without explanation. Anaya then assumed Caraballo’s previous duties.

Caraballo brought suit, alleging gender discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment claims. The district court granted defendants’ summary judgment on all of her claims.

The First Circuit reversed summary judgment on Caraballo’s disparate treatment claim. “Caraballo has ... established a prima facie case of gender discrimination. She was successfully performing her position, was adversely transferred, and was twice replaced by someone whom a reasonable person could consider similarly (or less) qualified,” the Court concluded. “Because Caraballo established a prima facie case of gender discrimination that her employer failed to rebut, the district court erred by granting summary judgment in the Department’s favor.”

See: Caraballo-Caraballo v. Correctional Administration, _ F3d _(1st Cir. 2018)

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Related legal case

Caraballo-Caraballo v. Correctional Administration



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