9th Circuit: No Compensatory or Punitive Damages in ADA Retaliation Cases

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently limited the remedies available to employees who sue for retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ruling that the statute does not provide for punitive damages, compensatory damages or a jury trial in ADA retaliation cases.  Click here to read the decision in Alvarado v. Cajun Operating Co. 

Mr. Alvarado worked as a cook in defendant’s restaurant. He complained after his supervisor made allegedly discriminatory remarks related to his age and disability, and shortly afterward he received several disciplinary write-ups for poor performance.  After Mr. Alvarado was ultimately terminated, he sued his former employer for, among other things, retaliation under the ADA.  Prior to trial, the federal district court granted defendant’s motion in limine, barring plaintiff from seeking punitive and compensatory damages, and a jury trial, on his ADA retaliation claim on the grounds that the statute provided only equitable relief for such claims.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling by holding that the plain, unambiguous language of the ADA remedy provisions specifically enumerate only those sections of the act for which compensatory and punitive damages (and a jury trial) are available, and that the ADA anti-retaliation provision is not included in that list.  Somewhat surprisingly considering the laws at issue have been on the books since 1991, the Ninth Circuit appears to be only the third Circuit Court of Appeals to have been presented with the issue, after the Seventh and Fourth Circuits (which reached similar conclusions).  The court also noted that several district courts in other circuits had reached the opposite conclusion (perhaps most surprising of all), by ignoring the text of the remedy provision and instead emphasizing the overall structure of the ADA and the “expansive” intent of the 1991 amendments. 

For now, the law in the Ninth Circuit on this question is clear:  while still entitled to compensatory or punitive damages in disability discrimination or failure to accommodate claims under the ADA, employees may not receive those damages for ADA retaliation claims.

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9th Circuit Orders Damages, but Not Reinstatement for Unauthorized Alien Workers

What's an employer to do when it is ordered to reinstate former employees, but those employees are not legally authorized to work in the United States?  Pay liquidated damages instead, according to the Ninth Circuit's recent decision in NLRB v. C&C Roofing Supply Inc

In C&C, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleged that the employer unlawfully fired 20 workers for engaging in union activity.  The parties reached a formal settlement that called for reinstatement of the illegally fired workers and payment of specific amounts of liquidated damages to each.  However, the employer then refused to reinstate the employees because many of them were unauthorized aliens and rehiring them would violate the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) and the Legal Arizona Workers Act, which both prohibit hiring unauthorized aliens. 

The Ninth Circuit solved the dilemma by ordering the employer to pay the agreed-upon liquidated damages, but did not require the employer to reinstate the unauthorized employees.  But how does this case square with Hoffman Plastic Compounds Inc. v. NLRB?  There, the U.S. Supreme Court held 5-4 that the board may not order back pay for unauthorized aliens, despite their firing in violation of federal labor law, because doing so would violate immigration policy expressed in IRCA.  In C&C, the Ninth Circuit dodged that issue by ruling that agreed-upon liquidated damages as part of a settlement do not raise the same issues as back pay ordered by the court, as the employees need not be "available to work" in order to receive liquidated damages.  Don't be surprised if this one gets appealed up to the Supreme Court for a determination if it really does square with Hoffman

Ninth Circuit Upholds Legal Arizona Workers' Act

This week the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Legal Arizona Workers Act (LAWA) is not preempted by the federal (IRCA).  Rather, the court held, LAWA falls within the scope of the “savings clause” of IRCA’s express preemption provision as a “licensing law” and is therefore enforceable.  A coalition of human rights and employers' groups challenged the law on several grounds, all of which were rejected by the Ninth Circuit.  To read the court's opinion, click here:  Chicanos Por La Causa v. Napolitano

LAWA allows Arizona state courts to suspend or revoke business licenses of employers who intentionally employ "unauthorized aliens," and also required Arizona employers to use the E-Verify System to check applicants' eligibility for employment.  Arizona employers should review this Notice to Employers from the Arizona State Legislature for more information.

Now that the Arizona law has been upheld (and assuming the U.S. Supreme Court does not hear further challenges), the Stoel Rives World of Employment expects anti-immigration groups to push for similar laws in other states.