United States Court of Appeals For the First Circuit
AUTORIDAD DE ENERGÍA ELÉCTRICA; VÍCTOR RUIZ, in his personal and official capacities; MIGUEL CORDERO, in his personal and official capacities; JOHN DOE,
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO
[Hon. Francisco A. Besosa, U.S. District Judge]
Thompson, Lipez, and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.
Wilbert Méndez Marrero for appellant. Angel A. Valencia-Aponte for appellees Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica; Víctor Ruiz, in his official capacity; and Miguel Cordero, in his personal and official capacities. Susana I. Peñagarícano-Brown, Assistant Solicitor General, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, with whom Margarita L. Mercado Echegaray, Solicitor General, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, was on brief, for appellee Víctor Ruiz, in his individual capacity.
June 20, 2014
THOMPSON, Circuit Judge. Plaintiff-appellant Minerva
Carrero-Ojeda ("Carrero") says that after she blew the whistle on
wrongdoing in her office, her employer and her superiors retaliated
against her in myriad ways. They threatened her, unjustly
disciplined her, and — most relevantly for our purposes — deprived
her of benefits owed to her under the Family and Medical Leave Act
("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654, and ultimately fired her.
Carrero now appeals the district court's dismissal of her FMLA
complaint for failure to state a claim. She also challenges the
court's failure to grant or, at least, expressly deny her post-
judgment request for leave to amend the pleadings. For reasons we
explain shortly, we affirm.
Because this appeal follows a dismissal pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) ("Rule 12(b)(6)"), we
take as true the facts alleged in Carrero's complaint and draw all
reasonable inferences in her favor.1 See Maloy v. Ballori-Lage,
744 F.3d 250 , 251 (1st Cir. 2014).
A. The Facts
Carrero began working for defendant-appellee Autoridad de
Energía Eléctrica (the Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority, or
"PREPA") in September 1986. At all times relevant to her
1 Unlike the district court, we do not consider the three documents that defendants appended to their motion to dismiss. We explain why in Part II(A), infra.
complaint, Carrero held the position of administrative coordinator
in PREPA's Aguadilla Technical Office. Defendant-appellee Víctor
Ruiz was district engineer of the technical section and Carrero's
immediate supervisor. Defendant-appellee Miguel Cordero was
PREPA's executive director.
In August 2007, PREPA's internal affairs office initiated
an investigation of corruption in the Aguadilla Technical Office.
Carrero's supervisor, Ruiz, was one of the targets. Carrero
testified and provided information for the investigation. To get
back at her, Carrero says, Ruiz, "in connection and conspiracy with
other employees, commenced a pattern of discriminatory acts against
[her] affecting the terms, conditions, benefits[,] and privileges
of her employment." Carrero claims "[t]he acts of discriminatory
retaliation included denying [her] job promotions, denying [her]
marginal benefits, submitting [her] to unjust disciplinary
measures, threatening [her] with dismissal, initiat[ing] illegal
administrative procedures[,] . . . illegally discharging her from
her employment," and "violating her rights under [the] FMLA."
Specifically, in November 2007, Carrero alleges that Ruiz
"commenced an administrative investigation" against her "for
allegedly having photocopied her personnel file without [his]
consent." Carrero says this occurred "during the period when [she]
was on family leave protected by the FMLA for the care of her
mother due to a medical procedure she had to undergo." The
subsequent investigation led PREPA's chief human resources officer,
Alex Carvajal,2 to file administrative charges against Carrero for
violations of PREPA's Rules of Conduct 18 and 29, as well as Notes
1 and 5, on January 30, 2008. (Carrero does not tell us what these
rules prohibit or what the charges stated. From now on, we'll call
them the "January 2008 charges.")
While the January 2008 charges were pending, other
harassment was underway. For example, in March 2008, PREPA's labor
affairs office refused to pay Carrero's travel expenses to attend
an administrative hearing, though it had always reimbursed her for
such travel before. Carrero contends that this shows the labor
office was in cahoots with Ruiz and company. Because of the
denial, Carrero filed an administrative claim "before the Court of
Appeals" (she does not say which one), which ordered a hearing.
Carrero says PREPA did not comply with that court's judgment (but
does not say what the judgment was).
In April 2008, PREPA's internal affairs office summoned
Carrero to offer testimony in the corruption investigation of the
Aguadilla Technical Office. A few weeks later, Ruiz instructed a
security guard to withhold a vehicles report from Carrero that she
usually maintained and that she had planned to give to the
2 We use the spelling of Carvajal's name found in defendants' answer to the complaint.
In June 2008, Carrero's mother fell and injured herself.
Carrero requested and was granted leave to care for her. While
Carrero was away, human resources chief Carvajal and two co-workers
(whose roles Carrero does not explain) promoted three PREPA
employees to superior positions in the Aguadilla Technical Office
"without granting [Carrero] the opportunity . . . [to] interview
and knowing she applied for such position." In doing so, Carrero
says they deprived her of an opportunity for promotion in violation
of her FMLA rights. In response, Carrero filed complaints with the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), as well as a
grievance with the labor affairs office, none of which were ever
Also while Carrero was out on leave, Ruiz and two
different co-workers (whose roles Carrero likewise does not
explain) instigated a second administrative investigation of
Carrero. The ensuing inquiry caused human resources chief Carvajal
to file a second set of administrative charges against Carrero on
August 8, 2008 for violations of PREPA's Rules of Conduct 17 and
27. (Again, Carrero does not tell us what these rules prohibit or
what the charges stated. We'll call them the "August 2008 charges"
from here on out.) In response, Carrero filed another complaint
with the EEOC against Ruiz for violating her FMLA rights that was
also never resolved.
In September 2008, Ruiz tasked Carrero with preparing
absence letters for employees with unsatisfactory attendance.
Then, in October 2008, Ruiz asked Carrero to photocopy the
personnel files of every Aguadilla Technical Office employee.
Carrero complains that both jobs were beneath her managerial status
and were better suited to "clerical personnel." Additionally, she
says the assignments amounted to "employment harassment" because
they violated PREPA's procedures and because she was then under
investigation for copying her own personnel file without
permission. In response, she filed a union grievance against Ruiz,
but no resolution was reached.
On January 23, 2009, a hearing officer reviewing the
January 2008 charges recommended Carrero's discharge. A few weeks
later, an employee acting on Ruiz's behalf twice attempted to
"force [Carrero] to receive" a copy of the resolution of the
charges — once at Ruiz's office and once at Carrero's office — but
Carrero refused. Carrero perceived these attempted deliveries to
be "acts of intimidation."
In May 2009, Ruiz, along with unnamed co-conspirators in
PREPA's labor office, deducted 6 hours and 16 minutes from
Carrero's pay and made her use vacation leave for time spent
attending a meeting regarding her EEOC complaints against Ruiz and
a co-worker for violating her FMLA rights. Later, PREPA's director
of transmission and distribution ordered that Carrero be reimbursed
for the discounted hours.
On June 22, 2009, though one hearing officer had already
recommended Carrero's termination based on the January 2008
charges, Cordero — then newly appointed as executive director —
ordered a second hearing on those charges before a different
officer. In the meantime, in September 2009, a PREPA accounting
office employee denied Carrero's reimbursement request for $201 for
travel to San Juan for a meeting with the labor affairs office.
The office usually paid Carrero back promptly for her work-related
On May 25, 2010, Carrero informed Cordero by letter that
she was a collaborating witness in the internal corruption
investigation. Shortly thereafter, on June 10, 2010, a second
hearing officer recommended Carrero's discharge based on the
January 2008 charges.
Not much later, on August 19, 2010, Carrero again applied
for family leave to take care of her sick mother, "who was
suffering [from] various serious health conditions which might need
emergency treatment and medical care outside and at home." On
September 2, 2010, Ruiz recommended that Carrero's request be
granted. Another employee approved her request that same day, but
Carrero did not take the leave immediately.
In October 2010, as a result of the administrative
investigation of corruption in the Aguadilla Technical Office, the
internal affairs office recommended filing charges against Ruiz,
among others, for embezzlement. Thereafter, Carrero says she was
"subject[ed] to threats and retaliation by . . . Ruiz" and others
under investigation, causing her to "fear for her life."
"By the middle of October 2010," Carrero's lawyer
received a letter signed by executive director Cordero saying that
Carrero was discharged from her position effective October 3, 2010.
Carrero's lawyer told her about the letter, but Carrero herself was
not notified by PREPA, so she kept working as usual. Then, on
October 27, 2010, Carrero's lawyer received a second letter, this
time signed by Angel Rivera (another player whose role Carrero does
not explain) on Cordero's behalf, reiterating that Carrero had been
discharged but amending the effective date to October 31, 2010.
Carrero says she did not receive a copy of this letter either.
In the middle of all this, on the night of October 21,
2010, Carrero's mother fell and "injur[ed] her hip and other parts
of her body." The following day, Carrero notified Ruiz that she
needed three months of family leave to take care of her mother and
"request[ed] to activate the family leave already approved" on
September 2 "for the time she was going to be absent." Carrero
does not say whether she in fact missed work to care for her mother
that day, but because she says she "requested her immediate absence
from work" after her mother fell, we assume she in fact stopped
going to work on October 22. And because her employment was
terminated a few days later, we also assume she did not return to
work following this absence, though her complaint does not say so
On November 4, 2010 — a few days after Carrero's
discharge had taken effect — Carrero's lawyer received a letter
from PREPA's labor office stating that PREPA would not acknowledge
Carrero's leave activation request. Carrero's mother passed away
on June 18, 2011. Carrero says she did not personally receive a
letter notifying her of her discharge until July 15, 2011.
B. Travel of the Case
On October 31, 2011, Carrero filed a complaint against
PREPA, Ruiz and Cordero in their personal and official capacities,
and John Doe,3 alleging violations of her rights under (1) the
FMLA, and (2) the Puerto Rico Whistle Blower Act, as provided by
P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 29, § 194, and P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 1, § 601.
With respect to her FMLA claim, Carrero said that in
October 2010 — though she qualified for leave, she had given PREPA
adequate notice that she intended to take leave, and PREPA had
already approved the leave — when she tried to "activate" the
3 Carrero described John Doe as "any person who may be responsible for the acts committed against [her] whose identity is not known at the moment," and said she would join such person once his or her identity became known.
leave, PREPA wrongfully "denied her the applicable FMLA benefits"
and "illegally discharged [Carrero] from her position . . . during
the period she was protected by the FMLA." By discharging her on
October 31, 2010, PREPA "illegally interfered [with], restrained[,]
and denied [her] the family leave approved on September 2, 2010 and
activated on October 22, 2010." There was "no . . . justification"
for discharging her "during the period she was under the protection
of the FMLA," she said, other than to "retaliate against her [and]
to deprive her of her right[s] as part of the pattern of harassment
and retaliation [she] suffered."4
On January 18, 2012, defendants filed a motion to dismiss
Carrero's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state
a claim on which relief could be granted. They contended Carrero
was discharged for disciplinary reasons entirely unrelated to any
exercise of her FMLA rights. Moreover, they argued the FMLA did
not insulate Carrero from adverse employment actions unrelated to
her FMLA rights.
Defendants attached three documents to their motion to
dismiss: (1) the disciplinary complaint filed against Carrero on
January 30, 2008, which lays out relevant personnel regulations and
details Ruiz's accusations against her; (2) the administrative
4 Carrero also claimed PREPA canceled her salary and benefits at the beginning of October, though she was not slated to be discharged until October 31. She did not file a separate claim based on this premature termination.
ruling recommending Carrero's discharge, dated June 10, 2010 and
amended July 30, 2010; and (3) the letter discharging Carrero
effective October 31, 2010, dated October 14, 2010. Carrero had
not attached these documents to her complaint, but she did not
object to their consideration or challenge their authenticity.
Rather, she cited the documents in her opposition to the motion to
dismiss, saying they "serve[d] to demonstrate the pattern of
retaliation perpetuated by [defendants]."
On June 27, 2012, the district court granted defendants'
motion to dismiss. In evaluating the motion, the court considered
both Carrero's complaint and defendants' documents. Assessing
Carrero's FMLA claim, the court found PREPA had "provided [Carrero]
with all required entitlements" and "discharged [her] for reasons
entirely independent of the FMLA," while Carrero had "fail[ed] to
demonstrate a causal connection between her FMLA leave and her
discharge." Accordingly, the court dismissed Carrero's FMLA claim
with prejudice, and, lacking any federal claim upon which to anchor
supplemental jurisdiction, dismissed Carrero's Puerto Rico law
claims without prejudice.
On July 25, 2012, Carrero filed a motion to alter or
amend judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e)
("Rule 59(e)"). She argued the pleadings adequately supported her
allegations that defendants had interfered with her FMLA rights.
In the alternative, she requested leave to amend the pleadings.
The district court denied her motion a few days later.
On August 10, 2012, Carrero filed a motion for
reconsideration of the order denying her motion. Defendants
objected because Carrero filed the motion without the court's
leave. The district court denied the motion on August 13, 2012.
This timely appeal followed.
Before us, Carrero argues the district court erred by
finding that her complaint did not state a sufficiently plausible
claim for relief to withstand defendants' motion to dismiss. In
the alternative, she contends the district court abused its
discretion by not granting or specifically denying her request for
leave to amend the pleadings.5
We find Carrero's arguments unpersuasive. But before we
turn to the merits of her claims, we pause to ascertain what
materials are properly before us.
A. Configuring the Record
At the motion-to-dismiss stage, our primary focus is on
the complaint. See, e.g., Maloy v. Ballori-Lage, 744 F.3d 250 , 251
(1st Cir. 2014). Ordinarily, courts may not consider any documents
"outside of the complaint, or not expressly incorporated therein,"
5 Carrero does not challenge the district court's dismissal without prejudice of her Puerto Rico law claims.
without converting the motion into one for summary judgment. Alt.
Energy, Inc. v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co., 267 F.3d 30 , 33
(1st Cir. 2001) (citing Watterson v. Page, 987 F.2d 1 , 3 (1st Cir.
1993)). However, there is a narrow exception for documents — the
authenticity of which is not challenged — that are central to the
plaintiff's claim or sufficiently referred to in the complaint,
even if those documents are not physically attached to the
pleading. Id. (citing Watterson, 987 F.2d at 3); see also Schatz
v. Republican State Leadership Comm., 669 F.3d 50 , 55 (1st Cir.
2012); Rodi v. S. N.E. Sch. of Law, 389 F.3d 5 , 12 (1st Cir. 2004);
Beddall v. State St. Bank & Trust Co., 137 F.3d 12 , 17 (1st Cir.
Here, when appraising defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion,
in addition to the complaint, the district court considered three
documents submitted by defendants. As a quick refresher, those
documents were: (1) the January 2008 disciplinary complaint filed
against Carrero; (2) the June 2010 administrative ruling
recommending Carrero's discharge; and (3) the October 2010 letter
terminating Carrero. Though Carrero had not appended those
documents to her complaint, the court said she had "ma[de] explicit
reference to" them, so it could properly consider them.
It is a close question whether these documents are
sufficiently referred to in Carrero's complaint to warrant
consideration at this stage. See Alt. Energy, Inc., 267 F.3d at
33. While Carrero mentioned the October 2010 letter in her
complaint, she did not directly cite the disciplinary complaint or
administrative ruling; rather, she simply discussed the proceedings
memorialized in those documents.
Absent any preserved objection by either party, we, like
the district court, could choose to regard the documents "as part
of the pleadings" and consider them here. See Maloy, 744 F.3d at
251 n.1 (citing Watterson, 987 F.2d at 4). But because we find
Carrero's complaint insufficient to surmount defendants' motion to
dismiss on its own, we feel no need to muddy the waters of our
analysis by considering defendants' documents. So we move on to
the merits, considering Carrero's complaint alone.
B. Family and Medical Leave Act Claims
Carrero's main contention on appeal is that her complaint
contained sufficient factual allegations to make out a plausible
claim for relief under the FMLA. Accordingly, she says the
district court erred by granting defendants' motion to dismiss.
1. Standard of Review
We review orders granting motions to dismiss under Rule
12(b)(6) de novo, applying the same criteria as the district court.
Schatz, 669 F.3d at 55. Our "sole inquiry . . . is whether,
construing the well-pleaded facts of the complaint in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff, the complaint states a claim for
which relief can be granted." Ocasio-Hernández v. Fortuño-Burset,
640 F.3d 1 , 7 (1st Cir. 2011) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)).
In other words, we ask whether the complaint "contain[s] sufficient
factual matter to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face." Rodríguez-Reyes v. Molina-Rodríguez, 711 F.3d 49 , 53 (1st
Cir. 2013) (internal quotation mark omitted).
We proceed in two steps: First, we "isolate and ignore
statements in the complaint that simply offer legal labels and
conclusions or merely rehash cause-of-action elements." Schatz,
669 F.3d at 55. Second, we take the facts of the complaint as
true, "drawing all reasonable inferences in [plaintiff's] favor,
and see if they plausibly narrate a claim for relief." Id.
"Plausible," we have noted, "means something more than
merely possible." Id. And a complaint that "pleads facts that are
'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability . . . 'stops short
of the line between possibility and plausibility.'" Ocasio-
Hernández, 640 F.3d at 12 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 ,
However, a complaint need not "plead facts sufficient to
establish a prima facie case," Rodríguez-Reyes, 711 F.3d at 54
(alteration added), or "allege every fact necessary to win at
trial," Rodríguez-Vives v. P.R. Firefighters Corps of P.R., 743
F.3d 278 , 283 (1st Cir. 2014), to make out a plausible claim. See
also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, 534 U.S. 506 , 515 (2002). "The prima
facie standard is an evidentiary standard, not a pleading standard,
and there is no need to set forth a detailed evidentiary proffer in
a complaint." Rodríguez-Reyes, 711 F.3d at 54 (alteration added).
That said, the elements of a prima face case remain
relevant to our plausibility assessment, as "[t]hose elements are
part of the background against which a plausibility determination
should be made." Id. Though "[t]here need not be a one-to-one
relationship between any single allegation and a necessary element
of the cause of action," reference to the prima facie elements can
help a court determine whether the "cumulative effect of the
complaint's factual allegations" is a plausible claim for relief.
Id. at 55 (brackets omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).
The bottom line is that "the combined allegations, taken
as true, must state a plausible, not merely conceivable, case for
relief." Ocasio-Hernández, 640 F.3d at 12 (quoting Sepúlveda-
Villarini v. Dep't of Educ. of P.R., 628 F.2d 25 , 29 (1st Cir.
2010) (Souter, J.)). Having thus described the plausibility bar
Carrero must overcome, we next provide a basic FMLA primer before
we consider Carrero's FMLA claims.
2. FMLA Primer
The FMLA was enacted to help working women and men
balance the competing demands of work and personal life. Hodgens
v. Gen. Dynamics Corp., 144 F.3d 151 , 159 (1st Cir. 1998); see 29
U.S.C. § 2601(b)(1)-(2). It includes two types of provisions:
"those establishing substantive rights and those providing
protection for the exercise of those rights." Colburn v. Parker
Hannifin, 429 F.3d 325 , 330 (1st Cir. 2005); see, e.g., 29 U.S.C.
§§ 2612, 2614, 2615.
In terms of substantive rights, the FMLA entitles an
employee to take twelve weeks of leave during any twelve-month
period for a variety of reasons, including to care for a family
member — such as a parent — with a serious health condition. Nagle
v. Acton-Boxborough Reg'l Sch. Dist., 576 F.3d 1 , 2 (1st Cir.
2009); Hodgens, 144 F.3d at 159 (citing, inter alia, 29 U.S.C.
§ 2612(a)(1)(C)). Upon an employee's return, her employer must
reinstate her to the same or an equivalent position, without any
loss of accrued seniority. Colburn, 429 F.3d at 330 (citing, inter
alia, 29 U.S.C. § 2614(a)(1) and 29 C.F.R. §§ 825.214(b), 825.216).
To protect these rights, the FMLA and its accompanying
regulations make it unlawful for any employer to, among other
things: (1) "interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise" of any
FMLA right, 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1); or (2) retaliate or
"discriminat[e] against employees . . . who have used FMLA leave,"
such as by "us[ing] the taking of FMLA leave as a negative factor
in employment actions, such as hiring, promotions[,] or
disciplinary actions," 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(c); see also 29 U.S.C.
§ 2615(a)(2). See Colburn, 429 F.3d at 330-31 (explaining the
origins of and overlap between FMLA interference and retaliation
In her complaint, Carrero contends that defendants both
interfered with and retaliated against her for exercising her FMLA
rights. We tackle each of her claims in turn, beginning with
retaliation for ease of analysis.
3. Retaliation Claim
Carrero first alleges that defendants impermissibly
retaliated against her for exercising her FMLA rights when they
fired her while "she was under the protection of [the] FMLA" in
October 2010. She says her termination represented the culmination
of a "pattern of discriminatory acts" by defendants that began
after she started helping with the internal corruption
investigation in August 2007. To the extent that defendants' other
acts of mistreatment coincided with or followed Carrero's use of
family leave, Carrero says those acts amounted to FMLA retaliation
As we pointed out above, the FMLA forbids an employer
from retaliating against an employee for exercising her FMLA
rights. Henry v. United Bank, 686 F.3d 50 , 55 (1st Cir. 2012)
(citing 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)). Thus, for example, an employer may
not use an employee's FMLA leave as a negative factor in deciding
to hire, fire, promote, or provide benefits to an employee. 29
C.F.R. § 825.220(c); see Henry, 686 F.3d at 55. However, while an
employee may not be penalized for exercising her rights under the
statute, an employee may nevertheless be discharged, not promoted,
or denied benefits for independent reasons during or after her
taking of FMLA leave. See Henry, 686 F.3d at 55 (citing Nagle, 576
F.3d at 3) (finding that employee was discharged for independent
reasons). In an FMLA retaliation case, the employer's intent —
i.e., why the employer fired or acted against the employee —
matters. Hodgens, 144 F.3d at 160.
To make out a prima facie case of FMLA retaliation, an
employee must show: (1) she availed herself of a protected FMLA
right; (2) she was "adversely affected by an employment decision;"
and (3) "there was a causal connection between [her] protected
conduct and the adverse employment action." See Orta-Castro v.
Merck, Sharp & Dohme Química P.R., Inc., 447 F.3d 105 , 107 (1st
Cir. 2006). Though, as we set out above, a plaintiff need not
plead facts sufficient to establish a prima facie case at the
pleading stage, the elements of a prima facie case are useful "as
a prism to shed light upon the plausibility of a [plaintiff's]
claim." Rodríguez-Reyes, 711 F.3d at 54. We view Carrero's
retaliation claims through that lens now, asking whether she has
pleaded enough facts in toto to make entitlement to relief
plausible in light of the prima facie standard that will pertain at
trial. See id.
Carrero's primary claim is that defendants retaliated
against her for exercising her FMLA rights when they discharged her
after she attempted to take FMLA leave in October 2010. We assume
for the sake of argument that this claim meets the first two prongs
of the prima facie test: First, she availed herself of her FMLA
rights when she took family leave in November 2007 and June 2008,
and again when she attempted to "activate" leave in October 2010
that was approved in September 2010. Second, she was adversely
affected by her termination effective October 31, 2010.
However, as to the third prong, Carrero offers too little
to connect her taking of FMLA leave and her termination to push her
claim across the plausibility threshold. Applying our two-step
plausibility analysis, we first set aside Carrero's conclusory
statement that there was "no . . . justification" for discharging
her "during the period she was under the protection of the FMLA,"
other than to "retaliate against her . . . as part of the pattern
of harassment and retaliation [she] suffered." See Schatz, 669
F.3d at 55. Calling her discharge FMLA retaliation does not make
it so. Indeed, to the extent the actions about which she complains
could be seen as retaliatory, Carrero's participation in the
internal corruption investigation offers a more likely explanation.
Next, we look to the facts Carrero puts forth, taking
them as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in her favor.
See id. Carrero says she was fired "during the effectiveness" of
her FMLA leave. She appears to assume that the chronological
overlap between her termination and her leave renders the causal
connection between the two actions obvious. But while temporal
proximity is one factor from which an employer's bad motive can be
inferred, by itself, it is not enough — especially if the
surrounding circumstances undermine any claim of causation. See
Wright v. CompUSA, Inc., 352 F.3d 472 , 478 (1st Cir. 2003) (finding
plaintiff established prima facie case of retaliation under the
Americans with Disabilities Act but noting that "chronological
proximity does not by itself establish causality, particularly if
the larger picture undercuts any claim of causation" (brackets
omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted)); Hodgens, 144 F.3d at
170 ("[T]emporal proximity may give rise to a suggestion of
retaliation, [but] that suggestion is not necessarily conclusive."
(brackets omitted) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks
Carrero gives us no facts beyond the timing of her
discharge — e.g., no negative comments, complaints, or expressions
of reluctance by her superiors or co-workers about her FMLA leave-
taking, no discussion of her FMLA leave status in performance
reviews, etc. — that would lead us to think that defendants took
her FMLA requests or leave status into account when deciding to
discharge her. Compare Hodgens, 144 F.3d at 165 (finding plaintiff
sufficiently showed causal connection between his FMLA-leave-taking
and his termination where his supervisor warned him "he was taking
'too much time off'" shortly after he took leave, his performance
evaluation "advised him to 'make every effort to have [his]
absenteeism fall within company guidelines,'" and his employer
decided which employees to lay off based on a ranking that
considered plaintiff's absence rate), with Donald v. Sybra, Inc.,
667 F.3d 757 , 763 (6th Cir. 2012) (finding temporal proximity plus
supervisor's single negative comment did not establish employer's
bad motive at summary judgment stage).
Instead, Carrero's complaint provides us with another
explanation for defendants' decision to terminate her at that time:
After an investigation of Carrero for alleged misconduct, two
different officers recommended her termination after two separate
hearings, and executive director Cordero decided to follow their
advice in October 2010.6 Whether the investigation was
well-grounded or instead part of a long-standing desire to get rid
of Carrero, the key point is that both the investigation and the
alleged animus pre-existed Carrero's October 2010 attempt to take
FMLA leave. In this respect, the bulk of the allegations in the
complaint relate to her FMLA claim only in that they provide a
detailed explanation of why she was fired, rightly or wrongly, and
cut directly against any conclusion that her firing was related to
FMLA-protected activity. Consequently, considering, as we must,
the "cumulative effect of the complaint's factual allegations," see
6 Needless to say, we make no judgment as to whether Carrero actually committed this misconduct. We only note that the misconduct allegations are the reason both Carrero and her superiors provide for her termination.
Rodríguez-Reyes, 711 F.3d at 55, and the "larger picture"
surrounding her discharge, see Wright, 352 F.3d at 478, we cannot
find that Carrero's complaint plausibly supports a finding that her
termination was causally connected to her requests for FMLA leave.
Carrero also claims that other adverse actions by
defendants constituted impermissible FMLA retaliation insomuch as
they coincided with or followed her use of family leave. For
example, in November 2007 and June 2008, Ruiz initiated misconduct
investigations of Carrero while Carrero was out on family leave.
Also, while Carrero was out on leave in June 2008, Carvajal
promoted three of Carrero's co-workers without giving Carrero an
opportunity to interview.
However, even assuming arguendo that this claim meets the
first two prongs of the prima facie inquiry, Carrero has not put
forth sufficient facts to demonstrate a causal connection between
her FMLA leave-taking and defendants' acts to establish a plausible
claim for relief. Again, beyond synchronicity, Carrero makes no
connection between those acts and her leave-taking.
As for Ruiz's opening of misconduct investigations,
Carrero explicitly says Ruiz acted as he did because of her
participation in the internal corruption investigation. She
neither disclaims nor admits any misconduct on her part, and she
does not say the accusations were unfounded.7 She simply says Ruiz
began the investigations "during the period when [she] was on
family leave protected by the FMLA." Again, an employer can take
adverse action against an employee while she is on leave for
reasons other than her leave status. See Henry, 686 F.3d at 55
(citing Nagle, 576 F.3d at 3). Thus, this allegation alone,
without more, is not enough to support a plausible claim.
As for Carvajal's promotion of Carrero's co-workers,
Carrero says only that these actions "affected [her] right to a
promotion while protected by [the FMLA]." Carrero has no greater
(or lesser) right to promotion by virtue of her FMLA-leave status.
See 29 C.F.R. § 825.216(a) ("An employee has no greater right . .
. to . . . benefits or conditions of employment" because she takes
FMLA leave.); 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(c) ("[E]mployers cannot use the
taking of FMLA leave as a negative factor in employment actions,
such as . . . promotions."). Though Carrero says she applied for
the open positions and was not given a chance to interview, she
asserts no factual allegation as to why her FMLA leave had any
bearing on Carvajal's decision not to interview her or award her
the position. See Orta-Castro, 447 F.3d at 114 (finding no proof
that defendants took plaintiff's absences into account in denying
her a higher position, even where plaintiff alleged an unidentified
7 Again, we do not judge whether Carrero actually committed this misconduct.
human resources representative told her she was not given the
position because of her absenteeism, and affirming dismissal of
Considering Carrero's factual allegations as a whole, we
again cannot say she has stated a plausible claim of FMLA
retaliation based on defendants' adverse actions. As a result, the
district court rightly found Carrero had not alleged a sufficiently
plausible retaliation claim to withstand defendants' Rule 12(b)(6)
motion to dismiss. So we journey on.
4. Interference Claim
Carrero also says defendants interfered with her FMLA
rights by terminating her employment while she was out on leave to
care for her sick mother.
As we set forth above, the FMLA makes it unlawful for
"any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of"
any FMLA-protected right. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1). We recall that
the FMLA entitles an employee to twelve weeks' leave per year for
listed family and medical reasons, such as to care for a parent
with a serious health condition. Nagle, 576 F.3d at 2; Hodgens,
144 F.3d at 159 (citing, inter alia, 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(C)).
However, "[i]f an employee is laid off during the course of taking
FMLA leave and [her] employment is terminated, the employer's
responsibility to continue FMLA leave, maintain . . . benefits[,]
and restore the employee cease at the time the employee is laid
off." 29 C.F.R. § 825.216(a)(1). (We remember, of course, that an
employer cannot discharge an employee because she requests or takes
FMLA leave, see 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(c), but we dealt with this
concern with respect to Carrero's retaliation claim.)
To withstand a motion to dismiss on her interference
claim, a plaintiff need only plausibly state that she is entitled
to the disputed leave. See Coburn, 429 F.3d at 331 (describing
summary judgment standard).8 Unlike in a retaliation claim, "no
showing as to employer intent is required." Id. The key issue is
simply whether the employer provided its employee the benefits to
which she was entitled per the FMLA. Hodgens, 144 F.3d at 159.
In her complaint, Carrero does not assert that defendants
wrongfully denied her requests for FMLA leave. To the contrary,
she says PREPA permitted her to take FMLA leave both in November
2007 and June 2008. Ruiz also approved her third FMLA leave
request in September 2010. Instead, Carrero says defendants
interfered with her FMLA rights by terminating her employment once
8 Other circuits have described the prima facie interference standard more fully as requiring an employee to show: (1) she was eligible for the FMLA's protections; (2) her employer was covered by the FMLA; (3) she was entitled to leave under the FMLA; (4) she gave her employer notice of her intention to take leave; and (5) her employer denied her FMLA benefits to which she was entitled. E.g., Donald v. Sybra, Inc., 667 F.3d 757 , 761 (6th Cir. 2012) (reh'g and reh'g en banc denied); Goelzer v. Sheboygan Cty., Wis., 604 F.3d 987 , 993 (7th Cir. 2010). As most of these elements are undisputed here, we use the abridged standard from our summary judgment jurisprudence to focus in on what is at issue. See Coburn, 429 F.3d at 331.
she "activated" her third leave in October 2010, rather than
permitting her to take the three months' leave she requested.
Carrero admits her lawyer was notified of her discharge
— originally effective October 3 but amended to October 31 — "by
the middle of October 2010." She claims she was not informed of
her termination at that time. Rather, she insists that she
remained employed when she properly triggered her previously
approved FMLA leave on October 22, was entitled to that leave, and
was "protected by the law at the time she was illegally discharged
from her employment."
However, the FMLA does not protect an employee from
discharge for any reason while she is on leave — rather, as we
discussed in the retaliation context, it protects her only from
discharge because she requests or takes FMLA leave. See 29 C.F.R.
§ 825.220(c). Thus, while Carrero may have had a claim for leave
prior to October 31, once her discharge took effect, Carrero was no
longer entitled to FMLA leave benefits.9 See 29 C.F.R.
9 At oral argument, the panel asked Carrero's counsel whether, in the alternative, Carrero was also arguing that defendants had interfered with her FMLA rights for the limited time span between October 22 (when she requested leave) and October 31 (when she was discharged). In response, counsel simply repeated his argument that the termination was null and void, so Carrero had a right to three months' leave. Accordingly, any separate argument relating to this limited time period is waived. See United States v. Anderson, 745 F.3d 593 , 598 (1st Cir. 2014); Rodríguez v. Municipality of San Juan, 659 F.3d 168 , 175 (1st Cir. 2011) ("[W]e deem waived claims not made or claims adverted to in a cursory fashion, unaccompanied by developed argument.").
§ 825.216(a)(1). As a result, she cannot state a plausible FMLA
interference claim, and the district court correctly granted
defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss on this ground as well.
C. Motion to Amend the Pleadings
In a last-ditch effort to save her FMLA claims, Carrero
argues the district court abused its discretion by not granting or
explicitly denying her post-judgment request to amend the
pleadings. Carrero asked for leave to amend the pleadings as
alternative relief in her motion to alter or amend judgment under
Rule 59(e). The district court did not address Carrero's amend-
pleadings request separately from her amend-judgment request;
rather, it denied the motion altogether, saying only that Carrero
"ha[d] not demonstrated a clear error of law, a change in the law,
or new evidence that [she] could not have presented previously."
We review the district court's denial of relief under
Rule 59(e) for abuse of discretion, mindful that the court enjoys
"considerable" discretion in this area. Soto-Padro v. Pub. Bldgs.
Auth., 675 F.3d 1 , 9 (1st Cir. 2012); see also Markel Am. Ins. Co.
v. Díaz-Santiago, 674 F.3d 21 , 32 (1st Cir. 2012). Rule 59(e)
permits a party to move to alter or amend judgment within 28 days
of entry of judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e). We generally
recognize three valid grounds for Rule 59(e) relief: "an
'intervening change' in the controlling law, a clear legal error,
or newly-discovered evidence." Soto-Padro, 675 F.3d at 9.
Requests to amend the pleadings, on the other hand, are
generally governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) ("Rule
15(a)").10 Fisher v. Kadant, Inc., 589 F.3d 505 , 508 (1st Cir.
2009). Rule 15(a) says that "[t]he court should freely give leave
[to amend] when justice so requires." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2).
"If, however, a motion to amend is filed after the entry of
judgment, the district court lacks authority to consider the motion
under Rule 15(a) unless and until the judgment is set aside."
Fisher, 589 F.3d at 508 (citing Palmer v. Champion Mortg., 465 F.3d
24 , 30 (1st Cir. 2006); Maldonado v. Dominguez, 137 F.3d 1 , 11 (1st
Cir. 1998)); Acevedo-Villalobos v. Hernandez, 22 F.3d 384 , 389 (1st
Cir. 1994). In other words, so long as the judgment remains in
effect, a motion under Rule 15(a) is beside the point. Fisher, 589
F.3d at 509.
Before us, Carrero does not challenge the district
court's denial of her request to amend judgment based on the merits
of her claims; rather, she appeals only its refusal of her request
to amend the pleadings "without any justifiable reason." However,
the court did explain its rejection of Carrero's Rule 59(e) motion
overall: Carrero had not established any of the three accepted
grounds for Rule 59(e) relief — i.e., a change in the law, an error
of law, or newly discovered evidence — in her motion. Carrero does
10 Carrero offered no specific legal support for her request to amend the pleadings, but we presume her request fell under Rule 15(a).
not say that this aspect of the court's ruling amounted to an abuse
of discretion. Because the court's initial judgment dismissing
Carrero's claims therefore remained in place, Carrero's alternative
request to amend the pleadings automatically failed. See Fisher,
589 F.3d at 508-09. The district court did not abuse its
discretion by not spelling out what should have been obvious based
on its resolution of Carrero's Rule 59(e) amend-judgment request.
Accordingly, we reject Carrero's final challenge on this front.
Our work completed, for the foregoing reasons, we affirm
the district court's dismissal of Carrero's FMLA claims with