U.S. First Circuit - The FindLaw 1st Circuit Court of Appeals News and Information Blog

Puerto Rican Teacher Can't Prove Political Discrimination

A Puerto Rican government worker has lost his political discrimination suit after the First Circuit ruled on Friday that he could show no evidence that his employment actions were politically motivated. Victor Santiago Diaz, a teacher and administrator in the island's Department of Education, had claimed that he suffered employment discrimination after a new political party came into power.

However, Santiago didn't have any strong evidence to back up that claim, the First Circuit ruled. Even worse -- the actions he objected to were hardly adverse and the supervisor most responsible for them was a member of his own political party.

The Politics Around Puerto Rico's Political Status

As in Quebec or Scotland, Puerto Rico's major parties are largely divided by where they stand on the island's political status. The Popular Democratic Party, Partido Popular Democr√°tico or PDP, advocates for the political status quo, arguing that Puerto Rico should maintain its status as an unincorporated U.S. territory. Its main opposition, the New Progressive Party, Partido Nuevo Progresista or NPP, wants full statehood for the island.

Santiago, a lifelong member of the PDP had been a teacher in Puerto Rico for 27 years. When the PDP was in power between 2004 and 2008, he held several government positions before being appointed to a career position in the Department of Education's Special Education division. His good fortune did not last too long, however.

In 2009, a year after Santiago's appointment, then-Governor Luis Fortuno, of the PNP, empowered government agencies to dismiss thousands of public employees in an effort to help the island recover from its debt crisis. (It didn't work.) Following that order, Santiago was reassigned to a lesser position while a NPP supporter replaced him. Further, Santiago alleges that his new NPP supervisor consistently undermined him, belittled him, and disparaged him because he was a supporter of the PDP. He sued, claiming political discrimination.

Political Discrimination, Just Without the Politics or Discrimination

Unfortunately for Santiago, he was unable to show that his reassignment was motivated by political concerns. In order to prove his claim of political discrimination, Santiago would have to show that his supervisors, of opposing affiliation, took an adverse employment action against him largely because of his politics. However, Santiago could not even demonstrate that his transfer was a negative employment action. His duties increased after he was reassigned, his salary remained the same, and his office was larger. While you and I might think more work with no raise is undesirable, if not adverse, the First Circuit disagreed.

Further, despite the fact that he was transferred during a time when party control of the government switched, there is little evidence to show that his transfer was politically motivated. For one, his allegedly abusive new supervisor was also a supporter of the PDP. Plus, after just a year, he was returned to his previous position with greatly expanded responsibilities and authority -- which makes one wonder why he ever sued in the first place.

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