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Roman v. Clay-Park Labs

June 2, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harold Baer, Jr., District Judge


On February 22, 2005, pro se plaintiff, Wilma Roman ("Roman" or "Plaintiff"), filed a complaint against her employer, Clay-Park Labs, Inc. ("Clay-Park" or "Company"), and her former manager, Juan Caceres ("Caceres"), alleging discrimination in employment on the basis of national origin as well as retaliation in their failure to rehire her. That same day, Roman filed a second complaint against her union, Local 210 International Brotherhood of Teamsters ("Local 210"), and her former union representative, Nelson Nunez ("Nunez"), that alleged discrimination in employment due to their failure to fairly represent her when she was terminated. Plaintiff claims that she was fired because she did not speak English and further, was not rehired by Clay-Park in retaliation for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") complaint she filed against the Company. I accepted these cases as related on April 22, 2005 and they were tried together. A two-day bench trial was held on March 27 and March 28, 2006 and post-trial findings of fact and law were received from all parties on April 27, 2006.


In June 2002, Roman was hired as a line worker at Clay-Park Labs, a manufacturer of pharmaceutical products. Clay-Park has a predominately Hispanic workforce and Plaintiff is also of Puerto Rican descent. Roman worked in Department 309 ("Department") and was responsible for packaging Clay-Park products. Employees in this Department are governed by a collective bargaining agreement.

A. Termination from Clay-Park

In February 2003, Juan Caceres, manager of Department 309, was directed by Company management to layoff the least senior person in that Department. Juan Caceres Affidavit ("Caceres Aff.") ¶ 5. Thus, on February 28, 2003, after approximately nine months at Clay-Park, Caceres informed the plaintiff that due to a company-wide workforce reduction, the company was required to let her go, effective Monday, March 3, 2003. See Def. Ex. F, Termination Report. Further, plaintiff says she learned that she was being fired because she did not speak English and that an even more junior employee, Gisell Valencia ("Valencia"), who was English speaking, would remain. See Roman Testimony, Trial Tr. 49: 2-4. Plaintiff was not terminated for cause.

Roman argued that because she was not the least senior employee in the department, she should not be let go. Roman Testimony, Trial Tr. 46: 19-23. Valencia was hired as a line worker in Department 309 in July 2002, a couple of weeks after the plaintiff. Valencia Testimony, Trial Tr. 115:3, See also Roman Testimony, 47:6-9 ("She arrived there approximately two weeks after I did."). Caceres testified that Valencia, who is bilingual, was off the production line and thus, not the least senior line person in the Department. Valencia was now a trainer and secretary.

The timeline associated with Valencia's promotion to trainer/secretary at Clay-Park was unclear prior to trial and still remains murky. Valencia herself could not pinpoint, with any degree of certainty, when she left the line. She testified at one point on direct that she left her duties as line person both at the start as well as at the end of 2002.

The Court: So you left the line job when?

The Witness: When he [manager] started training me for [the] secretary position.

The Court: Could you tell us when that was? What month? What year?

The Witness: It was in 2002, going on 2003.

The Court: It was the end of 2002?

The Witness: The time period is not too clear but I'm thinking between [sic] March.

The Court: Of what year?

The Witness: 2002, if I'm not mistaken.

Valencia Testimony, Trial Tr. 119: 15 -- 120:2. Later on, she states that she left the line at the end of 2003. Valencia Testimony, Trial Tr. 134:8-15.

However, it was undisputed that all Clay-Park trainers must be bilingual and that Valencia had that capability. These individuals are responsible for training their fellow employees on Clay-Park's standard operating procedures ("SOPs"), which are spelled out in a guidebook, written in English. See Valencia Testimony, Trial Tr.123: 4-13; See also Caceres Testimony, Trial Tr. 156: 11-18; Torres Testimony, Trial Tr. 190:19 -- 191:1. Clay-Park relies on the trainers to translate the procedures from English to Spanish and convey that information in training sessions to their majority Spanish-speaking workforce. Roman is not bilingual while Valencia is.

B. Interaction with Local 210

In an attempt to get her job back, Roman contacted her Local 210 union representative, Nelson Nunez. On March 3, 2003, the Monday following her termination, Roman had a meeting with Nunez where she explained that she was wrongfully terminated because there was a more junior employee in the Department. In the presence of Roman, Nunez contacted Caceres, Plaintiff's former manager. Caceres conveyed that the more junior employee was bilingual, thus she was kept so that she could be used as a trainer. As a result of this conversation, Nunez concluded that pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, Clay-Park was within their rights to lay off Roman. The collective bargaining agreement permits the employer to layoff employees both on the basis of seniority as well as ability to perform a job. Plaintiff requested that he file a grievance on her behalf. Nunez refused.

In or around August 2004, plaintiff contacted Pedro Cabezas, President of Local 210, and also told him that she was wrongfully terminated from her position at Clay-Park because she was not the most junior employee in the Department. Cabezas followed up with Nunez (who was no longer employed at the Local 210) about the details of Roman's case. When Nunez confirmed that the Company did not do anything wrong in this case, Cabezas called Roman back and told her there was nothing the union could do for her now.

C. Discrimination Complaints Filed

On March 10, 2003, Roman filed a discrimination charge with the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") against her union, Local 210, because Local 210 failed to file a grievance on her behalf. The NLRB did not issue a complaint against Local 210 and on May 21, 2003, the NLRB concluded that further proceedings were not warranted in this case. The NLRB rejected Roman's attempts to appeal their decision as untimely. Def. Ex. N.

However, with regard to Clay-Park, Roman filed an EEOC Complaint against them on November 24, 2003, in which she alleged that she was fired because she did not speak English and was not rehired as a result of discrimination directed at her. Def. Ex. H. She also alleged that the union's failure to represent her was bottomed in discrimination. Id. The record is barren on the result of any such EEOC complaint. Regardless, Roman filed a second EEOC Complaint on October 14, 2004 that alleged that Clay-Park's failure to rehire her was in retaliation for filing the ...

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