United States Court of Appeals For the First Circuit
AUTORIDAD DE TRANSPORTE MARÍTIMO Y LAS ISLAS MUNICIPIO,
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO
[Hon. Bruce J. McGiverin, U.S. Magistrate Judge]
Lynch, Chief Judge, Torruella and Lipez, Circuit Judges.
Aníbal J. Núñez-González and Puerto Rico Legal Advocates, PSC, on brief for appellant. Francisco M. Troncoso, Law Offices of Francisco M. Troncoso, PSC, and Jorge L. Guerrero-Calderón, on brief for appellee.
May 16, 2014
TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge. Laura Climent-García
("Climent") sued her employer, alleging adverse employment action
and a failure to hire on account of sex. A jury found in favor of
Climent on both counts. On appeal, the Autoridad de Transporte
Marítimo y la Islas Municipio (the Puerto Rican Maritime Transport
Authority or "the MTA") seeks a reversal of the jury verdict,
claiming that insufficient evidence was presented at trial to
support the jury's findings. In the alternative, the MTA requests
remittitur on the issue of damages. Because a procedural misstep
bars its sufficiency-of-the-evidence claim from review, we do not
consider that portion of the MTA's appeal. As to the damages
award, after a thorough review of the evidence, we affirm the
district court's denial of remittitur.
Because the MTA's claims rest on sufficiency-of-the-
evidence grounds, we recite the facts in the light most favorable
to the jury's verdict. See Rodríguez v. Señor Frog's de la Isla,
Inc., 642 F.3d 28 , 30 n.1 (1st. Cir. 2011); Correa v. Hosp. S.F.,
69 F.3d 1184 , 1188 (1st Cir. 1995).
A. Climent's Employment
At all times relevant to this case, Climent held the
permanent position of Operations Supervisor at the MTA's Fajardo,
Puerto Rico, ferry terminal. In this position, her monthly salary
was $2,810, and she was eligible for overtime.
In 2006, the Executive Director of the MTA, Juan Cirino-
Martínez ("Cirino"), approached Climent about her serving, on an
interim basis, as the Assistant Manager of Maritime Transport at
the Fajardo ferry terminal. She accepted the position. As Interim
Assistant Manager, Climent's responsibilities included overseeing
all operational and administrative aspects of ferry operations
between Fajardo and the two offshore islands of Culebra and
Vieques, Puerto Rico. Many of her duties, such as managing the
ticket office, inspecting cargo loads, and ensuring vessel
maintenance, required Climent to be present at the Fajardo ferry
Due to these on-site duties, Climent's male predecessor
had worked from an office at the ferry terminal. She, however, was
given office space at an MTA-owned location approximately ten
minutes away. On several occasions when Climent traveled to the
terminal to complete her work, Cirino –- either directly or through
an intermediary –- would forcefully demand that she return to her
office. As a result, Climent had less of an operational role than
her predecessor, and administrative tasks comprised a relatively
larger share of her duties.
Climent also noticed that her predecessor continued to
sign certain requisition and disbursement orders. Believing that
having multiple signatories on orders for a single ferry would
cause confusion, Climent stopped signing orders related to
particular vessels. On one occasion, Cirino became angry when he
realized Climent had not signed an order, screaming at her and
insinuating that she would soon be fired. Climent, upset and in
tears, returned to her office and spoke to the MTA's Human
Resources Director, Jeanette Santana ("Santana"). She later met
with a psychologist to alleviate her distress.
In July 2007, upset with her treatment in Fajardo,
Climent resigned from the Interim Assistant Manager position,
returned to her permanent job as Operations Supervisor, and began
to investigate the possibility of transferring to a different
location. Around that same time, an interim position of Maritime
Transport Administrator opened up at the AcuaExpresso ferry
terminal in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Santana recommended Climent for
the job, telling Cirino that she believed Climent was highly
qualified. Cirino expressed skepticism, suggesting that Climent's
childcare responsibilities would make commuting from Fajardo to San
Juan for work inappropriate. Overhearing this conversation,
Climent responded that she would happily make appropriate childcare
arrangements and that she wished to be considered for the position.
Again, Cirino refused, saying that the San Juan ferry terminal was
staffed only by males and that he had already selected a different
individual, Stanley Mulero ("Mulero"), for the position.
While Maritime Transport Administrator, Mulero received
a monthly salary of $4,342 and was not eligible for overtime.
Having not been selected for the position, Climent continued to
work as Operations Supervisor in Fajardo, where she remained
employed throughout this litigation.
B. The Trial
Climent brought claims pursuant to Title VII, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 2000e et seq., and analogous Puerto Rico law, Law No. 100 of
June 30, 1959, as amended, P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 29, §§ 146 et seq.
("Law 100"). Trial began on September 19, 2012. During the jury
trial, the MTA twice moved for judgment as a matter of law, see
Fed. R. Civ. P. 50, first, at the conclusion of Climent's case-in-
chief and, second, after the close of all evidence. The magistrate
judge presiding over the trial declined to grant either motion.
After deliberations, on September 27, 2012, the jury
returned a verdict for Climent on both counts. For her adverse
employment action claim, which was related to her time as Interim
Assistant Manager in Fajardo, the jury awarded $50,000 in
compensatory damages. For her failure to hire claim, which was
related to the Maritime Transportation Administrator position in
San Juan, the jury awarded $95,750 in back pay. Pursuant to Law
100, the magistrate judge doubled this total award, entering
judgment against the MTA in the amount of $291,500. The MTA filed
a post-verdict motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e),
seeking a reduction of the damages award. It did not renew its
motion for judgment as a matter of law. The magistrate judge
declined to reconsider damages, and this appeal followed.
A. Sufficiency of the Evidence
The MTA seeks a reversal of the jury verdict, arguing
that no reasonable jury presented with the evidence at trial could
have found either an adverse employment action or a failure to
hire. The tide runs strongly against a litigant seeking to
overturn a jury verdict. See, e.g., Bisbal-Ramos v. City of
Mayagüez, 467 F.3d 16 , 22 (1st Cir. 2006) ("In assessing the
sufficiency of the evidence to support a jury verdict, we ask
whether, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the
verdict, a rational jury could have found in favor of the party
that prevailed."); Crowley v. L.L. Bean, LLC, 303 F.3d 387 , 393
(1st Cir. 2002) ("Our review . . . 'is weighted toward preservation
of the jury verdict,' for 'we must affirm unless the evidence was
so strongly and overwhelmingly inconsistent with the verdicts that
no reasonable jury could have returned them.'" (quoting Rodowicz v.
Mass. Mut. Life Ins. Co., 279 F.3d 36 , 41–42 (1st Cir. 2002))).
In order to engender appellate review on sufficiency-of-
the-evidence grounds, however, "a party must first have presented
the claim to the district court, either by moving for judgment as
a matter of law before the case is submitted to the jury and
renewing that motion after the verdict or by moving for a new
trial." Hammond v. T.J. Litle & Co., 82 F.3d 1166 , 1171 (1st Cir.
1996) (emphasis added and internal citation omitted). Despite
having twice filed for judgment as a matter of law during trial,
the MTA failed to renew this motion post-verdict. That failure
leaves the MTA's claim dead in the water, for an appellate court
"'cannot review the denial of a Rule 50(a) motion based on the
sufficiency of the evidence when the party appealing the verdict
failed to renew its sufficiency challenge in the district court
pursuant to Rule 50(b).'" Fed. Ins. Co. v. HPSC, Inc., 480 F.3d
26 , 32 (1st Cir. 2007) (quoting Vázquez-Valentín v. Santiago-Díaz,
459 F.3d 144 , 148 (1st. Cir. 2006)); see also Unitherm Food Sys.,
Inc. v. Swift-Eckrich, Inc., 546 U.S. 394 , 407 (2006) ("[S]ince
respondent failed to renew its preverdict motion as specified in
Rule 50(b), there was no basis for review of respondent's
sufficiency of the evidence challenge in the Court of Appeals.").
Although the MTA did file a post-verdict motion to amend
or alter the judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e), that is of
no help to their claim. We have previously explained that when a
party files a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)
for a new trial on evidentiary grounds, it may be the benefactor of
a "limited review of the sufficiency claim," insofar as that review
is required to assess the merits of its new trial request. Jusino
v. Zayas, 875 F.2d 986 , 991 (1st Cir. 1989). We have made clear,
however, that a post-verdict Rule 59 motion seeking other relief --
including the reduction of damages -- cannot preserve a party's
sufficiency claim for appellate review. Id. at 992 ("Although
[appellant] filed a posttrial motion under Rule 59(e), that motion
did not challenge the adequacy of the evidence generally, but dealt
solely with the matter of double damages . . . . [A]ppellants
neglected seasonably to invoke either Rule 50 or Rule 59(a) on
sufficiency grounds."). Here, the MTA did not argue in its post-
verdict motion that there was insufficient evidence of liability on
either the adverse employment action or the failure to hire claim.
In light of its failure to file a post-verdict Rule 50(b)
motion, we do not consider the MTA's unpreserved challenge to the
sufficiency of the evidence. That ship has sailed.
B. Damages Amount
The MTA also appeals from the district court's denial of
its Rule 59(e) motion for remittitur. It is within the district
court's discretion "to order a remittitur if such an action is
warranted in light of the evidence adduced at trial." Trainor v.
HEI Hospitality, LLC, 699 F.3d 19 , 29 (1st Cir. 2012) (citing
Kelley v. Airborne Freight Corp., 140 F.3d 335 , 355 (1st Cir.
1998)). To warrant remittitur, however, the award must exceed "any
rational appraisal or estimate of the damages that could be based
upon the evidence before it." Wortley v. Camplin, 333 F.3d 284 ,
297 (1st Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting E.
Mountain Platform Tennis, Inc. v. Sherwin-Williams Co., 40 F.3d
492, 502 (1st Cir. 1994)); see also Smith v. Kmart Corp, 177 F.3d
19 , 29 (1st Cir. 1999).1
Where a district court has entered or denied a remittitur
under this standard, our review is for abuse of discretion.
Trainor, 699 F.3d at 29; Smith, 177 F.3d at 29. In undertaking
this review, we assess the evidence in the light most favorable to
the jury's award, drawing all reasonable inferences in support of
the award. Smith, 177 F.3d at 21; Conde v. Starlight I, Inc., 103
F.3d 210 , 214 (1st Cir. 1997).
The MTA does not challenge the $50,000 in compensatory
damages. In addition, although its Rule 59(e) motion questioned
the appropriateness of double damages under Law 100, that claim was
not renewed on appeal. Thus, at issue is only the back pay award
of $95,750.2 The MTA attacks this amount on two grounds. First,
1 In cases of noneconomic injury, such as emotional distress, remittitur requires further finding that the award "is so grossly disproportionate to any injury established by the evidence as to be unconscionable as a matter of law." Koster v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 181 F.3d 24 , 34 (1st Cir. 1999); see also Kolb v. Goldring, Inc., 694 F.2d 869 , 871 (1st Cir. 1982) (explaining the distinct standards applicable to damages of a noneconomic versus economic nature). 2 The record does not expressly indicate how the jury calculated this amount, and neither party addresses the issue. Based on a few uncontested facts, however, we can recreate at least one rational way the jury might have reached this number: (1) Climent's salary was $2,810 per month; (2) Mulero's salary was $4,342 per month; (3) Mulero began as Maritime Transport Administrator on July 16, 2007; (4) the jury returned its verdict on September 27, 2012. Extrapolating from these facts, the jury might rationally have calculated Climent's lost monthly salary as $1,532 ($4,342 - $2,810 = $1,532) and awarded damages from the date Mulero began work until
it argues that Mulero only served as Maritime Transportation
Administrator for fourteen months, from July 2007 until September
2008. This fourteen-month period, according to the MTA, should be
the maximum duration for which Climent is eligible to receive back
pay based on the failure to hire her to an interim position.
Second, the MTA argues that the back pay award failed to account
for Climent's overtime wages. It asserts that, with overtime, she
made more than $4,432 for at least nine of the fourteen months in
Back pay is intended to "fully compensate a plaintiff in
a manner that suits the specific facts of the case." Selgas v. Am.
Airlines, Inc., 104 F.3d 9 , 12-13 (1st Cir. 1997); see also
Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody, 422 U.S. 405 , 419 (1975) (stating
that back pay should be in the amount necessary to make a plaintiff
whole). In cases where the evidence presented at trial shows
damages to be limited in duration or offset by alternative income,
therefore, remittitur may be appropriate to avoid granting the
plaintiff a significant windfall. The MTA, however, is incorrect
in asserting that this is such a case. Reviewing all the facts on
the record, we explain the shortcomings of each of its claims in
the entry of judgment (62.5 months). Simple multiplication gives us the total back pay award ($1,532 x 62.5 = $95,750).
1. Duration of the Interim Position
In both its Rule 59(e) motion and again on appeal, the
MTA alleges that "Mulero declared at trial that the interim post
lasted fourteen (14) months." Because the parties do not contest
that the position was interim in nature, the MTA concludes that
this fourteen-month period is the maximum time for which Climent
could receive damages.
Having reviewed the record, it is clear that this
argument significantly mischaracterizes Mulero's testimony. The
only time he mentions a fourteen-month period is during a
discussion of a merit-based raise:
Q: . . . [Cirino] gave you some steps, some merit steps? Is that correct? A: Yes. That's correct. After 14 months as interim  maritime transport administrator, pursuant to the regulations, he granted me some merits steps.
This language alone does not show when (or even if) Mulero left the
Maritime Transportation Administrator position, only that after
fourteen months he was given a raise. More tellingly, nothing else
in the record establishes that the position, although interim in
nature, had a predetermined end date. For example, the letter
appointing Mulero, which was introduced as a trial exhibit, states
only that his job would commence on July 16, 2007, but does not
indicate how long it would last.
Testimony regarding the nature of interim posts at the
MTA further underscores this point. Climent, for example, testified
that "[a]n interim position is a position in which [I would] cover
someone else for a fixed period of time and at the end of the
determined or undetermined period . . . I would then return to my
position as supervisor." Similarly, Santana testified that an
employee may be "appoint[ed] in a position on an interim basis and
once the executive director, the nominating authority or the
employee themselves request that the appointment be terminated, the
person returns to their career position." These statements accord
with other testimony clearly establishing that, although understood
by MTA employees to be temporary in nature, the duration of an
interim post may be indefinite or undetermined.
The record does establish that Mulero eventually left his
post as Maritime Transportation Administrator, but it offers no
clue as to when, precisely, this departure occurred or whether it
coincided with the end of the interim posting. In other words, the
record is bereft of any evidence that would require the jury to
determine that, had Climent been awarded the position, she (1)
would have ended her interim tenure on the same date as Mulero, or
(2) could not have served as Maritime Transportation Administrator
until the time of trial. As such, we are unconvinced that the
damages calculation was clearly irrational, or that the district
court abused its discretion in denying the motion for remittitur on
2. Overtime Pay
Taking a different tack, the MTA next claims that the
jury back pay award goes overboard by failing to appropriately
offset Climent's overtime pay. Again, this claim flounders for
lack of evidence in the trial record. The MTA attached to their
Rule 59(e) motion a biweekly breakdown of Climent's pay rate from
August 2007 until August 2008, indicating that after overtime,
Climent consistently made much more than $2,810 each month. Even
presuming that these numbers are correct, however, they were not
introduced at trial. In fact, having reviewed the entire trial
transcript, the references to overtime pay are strikingly limited.
First, while cross-examining Climent, the MTA asked a
series of questions attempting to elicit an admission that, between
August 2007 and August 2008, she often made as much as $6,000 per
month in her permanent position. Climent answered that she thought
the quoted numbers were too high, although presumably she might
have received extra money during particular months for covering the
responsibilities of a vacationing supervisor. In any case, five
years having passed, she felt unable to testify confidently on the
issue without reference to a pay stub. Questioning then moved on
to other subjects. Second, the MTA called as a witness Jorge
Delgado-Arroyo, the MTA's Acting Director for Finance and
Administration. He testified as follows:
Q: . . . [I]n August 2007, did [Climent] earn less or more than the $3,610 that she was earning? A: She earned more. Q: Now, can you tell us: during the next year, if she earned monthly more, the same or less than she was earning as interim manager? A: She earned more.
Therefore, evidence in the record -- if fully credited by the jury
-- proves at most that Climent earned, on average, more than $3,610
each month between August 2007 and August 2008. The MTA offered no
evidence that she continued to work overtime beyond August 2008,
leaving nearly four years of the eventual damages period
uncontested. Moreover, it introduced no extrinsic evidence in the
form of pay stubs or records to support its calculations, and it
never introduced testimony establishing Climent's precise earnings
for each month during this period. Although the MTA's evidence did
suggest that, for at least two months, Climent made more than
$4,342, it failed to otherwise show how Climent's pay rate compared
with that of the Maritime Transportation Administrator position.
This scant evidence cannot carry the day. Based on the
imprecise and incomplete nature of the evidence presented at trial,
we cannot say that no rational jury could have calculated Climent's
damages without offsetting overtime. Cf. Koster v. Trans World
Airlines, Inc., 181 F.3d 24 , 34 (1st Cir. 1999) ("[T]estimony
. . . as to back pay and future pay was quite specific. . . . In
the face of such firm evidence of economic damage, we cannot say
that the jury could reasonably conclude Koster was damaged above
and beyond what he said his damages were."). Moreover, even had
the jury accounted for overtime during this year-long period,
evidence in the record also indicated that Mulero received a merit-
based raise of approximately $500 after fourteen months as Maritime
Transportation Administrator. Therefore, a rational jury could
have concluded that one year of overtime was equal to or offset by
nearly four years at this heightened pay rate. Consequently, we
find the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying
remittitur on this basis.
In considering this appeal, we view the evidence in the
light most favorable to the verdict. From that vantage point, we
cannot say that the jury's damages award was irrational or unmoored
from the record. Accordingly, we affirm.