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Collazo-Rosado v. University of Puerto Rico

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 2, 2014

MARÍA J. COLLAZO-ROSADO, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF PUERTO RICO; MARISOL GÒMEZ-MOUAKAD, Defendants, Appellees

Page 87

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO. Hon. Daniel R. Domínguez, U.S. District Judge. Hon. Camille L. Vélez-Rivé , U.S. Magistrate Judge.

Jorge Martí nez-Luciano, with whom Emil Rodríguez-Escudero and Martí nez-Luciano & Rodríguez-Escudero were on brief, for appellant.

Edna E. Pérez-Romá n for appellee University of Puerto Rico.

Mayra M. Gonzá lez-Reyes, with whom Jimé nez, Graffam & Lausell was on brief, for appellee Marisol Gómez-Mouakad.

Before Lynch, Chief Judge, Thompson and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 88

THOMPSON, Circuit Judge.

Overview

We deal here with a suit by Marí a J. Collazo-Rosado (" Collazo" ) against the University of Puerto Rico (" UPR" ) and Marisol Gómez-Mouakad (" Gómez" ) -- Collazo's former employer and supervisor, respectively. A Crohn's-disease sufferer (Crohn's is a chronic inflammatory disease of the intestine), Collazo contends that the defendants did not renew her employment contract in retaliation for her complaining about disability-discrimination -- an action that, she says, infracted 42 U.S.C. § 12203(a), which is the anti-retaliation provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ). She also contends that Gómez's conduct constituted First-Amendment retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. But on summary judgment, the district court rejected these claims as a matter of law. And in the pages that follow, we explain why the court got it right.

Page 89

Background

The relevant facts -- read in the light most flattering to Collazo (the summary-judgment loser), consistent with record support, see Soto-Padró v. Pub. Bldgs. Auth., 675 F.3d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 2012) -- tell the following story. Collazo has lived with Crohn's disease for many years, at least since 2005. Sometime in 2006 she interviewed for a position as " mentorship coordinator" of the " academic support development center" at the UPR's Humacao campus. The center (which is what we'll call it from now on) is a federally-funded program at the UPR that (as its name suggests) offers students academic-support services, specifically in the area of natural sciences. Collazo told her interviewer -- Dr. Helena Méndez-Medina (" Méndez" ), the center's then-codirector -- that if she got the job, she would have to have access to a bathroom and be able to use accumulated sick leave to see her doctor or go for tests. These were " reasonable accommodations," she told Méndez. No problem, Méndez replied -- or words to that effect. Ultimately, the UPR hired Collazo in early winter 2006 on a contract set to expire in September 2007. But twice the UPR renewed her contract on a one-year basis -- in September 2007 and again in September 2008.

Collazo's job involved hiring and training students to mentor and tutor other students at the center; supervising the center's secretary, plus those students who worked and received services there; preparing surveys and reports; and managing the center's long-term " functionality." Those tasks were hers and hers alone. The center was open 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. And her shift ran from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

About two months after starting at the center, Méndez sent a memo to all personnel -- including Collazo -- telling them to notify the administrative assistant first before missing work, arriving late, or leaving early. She also reminded everyone that they had to punch a time clock -- which was near Collazo's desk -- to signal their arrival at and departure from work. " No attendance card will be signed," Méndez added, " if it contains entries made by hand or changes in the work schedule that ha[ve] not been properly pre-authorized." Collazo, all agree, hand wrote her time on cards dozens of times before and after this memo, offering excuses like she " forgot to punch" in or the time-clock area was " closed."

Gómez became Collazo's immediate supervisor in August 2008. Chatting together one day around this time, Collazo mentioned she had Crohn's disease. And she explained the reasonable accommodations she had received and hoped to continue receiving: the ability to take frequent bathroom breaks and attend medical appointments. " [D]on't worry," Gómez told her, though she did ask Collazo to give center personnel a heads-up -- by telephone, email, or text -- whenever she was arriving late, leaving early, or away from her desk for any " considerable" span of time. The reason for this was that Collazo's job required that she be physically present at the center to supervise student mentors and tutors.

Collazo, it turns out, " normally" gave prior notice when she had a medical appointment. " Normally" is her word, not ours. And Gómez granted every one of her leave and absence requests -- whether medically related or not -- and never expressly or even impliedly stated that she could not take bathroom breaks.

Eventually, however, Gómez became concerned that the center was not meeting the program's goals and objectives. Here is what happened: In January 2009 the ...


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