Court reduces Six Million Dollar Veredict under ADA

A worker in Puerto Rico sued her employer in federal court under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and  local disabilities Law 44-1985.  Plaintiff also alleged retaliation. The court heard the case in March 2015 and the jury found in favor of the claimant.  She was awarded $3,000,000; amount then doubled to $6,000,000 as required by local law 44. The employer objected to the verdict and the court agreed finding it  “shock[ed] the conscience of the court and far exceeds any rational amount based on the evidence presented at trial.”  The Court  then reduced it by 90% – to $600,000.00. See,  Luz Gonzalez v Municipality of Aguadilla 3: 13-cv-01132 (JAF).

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The ADA covers employers  in Puerto Rico with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments.  It prohibits  employers, from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. Employer are also required to make a reasonable accommodation to the known disability of a qualified applicant or employee if it would not impose an “undue hardship” on the operation of the employer’s business. Reasonable accommodations are adjustments or modifications provided by an employer to enable people with disabilities to enjoy equal employment opportunities.

Puerto Rico Law 44-1985

Local Law 44 bans discrimination against individuals with disabilities by any public or private institution. P.R. Laws Ann., tit. 1, § 504.   It “is Puerto Rico’s counterpart to the ADA,” Salgado-Candelario v. Ericsson Caribbean, Inc., 614 F.Supp.2d 151, 175 (D.P.R. 2008).   It  protects employees against discrimination on the basis of physical or mental limitations. The statute provides monetary damages to employees if their employers “put into effect or use discriminatory employment procedures, methods, or practices against persons with any kind of physical, mental or sensory disability just for the sake of said handicap.” P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 1, § 505.  All damages awarded under Law 44 are doubled as a statutory penalty.