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Firefighter's Title VII Failure-to-Hire, Retaliation Claims Survive

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on April 07, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Waleska Garayalde-Rijos applied to be a firefighter in the Municipality of Carolina in Puerto Rico. She was the only woman to apply, and though she had the highest test score among all the applicants, she was not hired. Carolina hired seven men with lower test scores for the vacant positions.

The EEOC Complaint

Garayalde-Rijos filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). And only after the EEOC concluded that gender discrimination occurred in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Municipality of Carolina hired Garayalde-Rijos for the last vacant position.

Even after she was hired, Garayalde-Rijos alleges that she was discriminated against, and subject to retaliation for filing the EEOC complaint. After she received a right to sue letter from the EEOC, Garayalde-Rijos initiated this action in federal court.

Magistrate Judge's Report, Recommendation

Garayalde-Rijos filed a complaint alleging sex discrimination violations of federal and state laws for Carolina's refusal to hire, and retaliation claims in violation of federal and state laws for post-hiring discrimination. All claims were brought against Carolina and Carolina's mayor.

The magistrate judge recommended dismissing all claims against the mayor, the post-hire discrimination claims for failure to exhaust all administrative remedies, and the retaliation claims for failing to plead a prima facie case.

The district court adopted the magistrate judge's report and recommendation. It also went a step further and sua sponte dismissed all claims against Carolina.

1st Circuit Analysis

The First Circuit agreed with the dismissal of the claims against the mayor and the post-hire discrimination claims, mainly because Garayalde-Rijos waived her right to appeal when she did not object, even though she had notice, to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation.

Regarding Garayalde-Rijos's failure-to-hire and retaliation claims, the First Circuit disagreed with the district court's analysis. The court noted that just because Garayalde-Rijos "was eventually hired does not mean there was not unlawful discrimination in the hiring decisions for the first seven firefighter positions."

Furthermore, the First Circuit noted that the district court made several errors of law in its analysis of the retaliation claim. The court stated that a prima facie case is an evidentiary standard, not a pleading standard, and found flaws with the district court's causation analysis.

Here, the First Circuit found numerous errors of law in the district court's analysis. Lawyers should remember that judges make mistakes too, and when issues are briefed and argued before the court, they must not overlook foundational issues such as pleading requirements and evidentiary standards. More than technicalities, they ensure a functioning and honorable judicial system.

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