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.