Previously, I have written on whether you can get compensatory and punitive damages in ADA retaliation claims. That particular blog entry despite its title was restricted to title I claims of the ADA. That is, claims arising from employment. But what about title II claims of the ADA. That is, a retaliation claim arising from a situation where a governmental entity retaliates against someone who is advocating for the governmental entity to do the right thing so to speak for a person with a disability. As we are about to find out, you wind up with a different answer with respect to whether compensatory damages are available for retaliation claims based on title II of the ADA , though, for different reasons, you do wind up with the same answer that punitive damages are not available for retaliation claims based on title II of the ADA. As is typical with my blog entries, this particular blog entry is divided into three sections: facts, court’s reasoning, and takeaways. The reader is free to concentrate on any or all of the sections, though considering that this blog entry is on the short side for my blog entries, you will probably wind up reading all of it:-)
You might ask how might you see a retaliation claim in the context of title II. Lee v. Natomas Unified School District, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24253 (E.D. Cal. February 27, 2015), is such a case. In that case, the plaintiff had a child that was found through a psycho-educational assessment to have a disability falling along the autism spectrum. The plaintiff was not at all happy with that determination. After that, the plaintiff became quite aggressive with trying to get the school district to change the classification. The school district took umbrage at the plaintiff’s efforts, including ultimately seeking a series of injunctions that would have effectively barred him from the school’s campus. The plaintiff files a retaliation claim alleging violations of § 504 the Rehabilitation Act and title II of the ADA.
There is a section of the opinion talking about how do you make a prima facie case out with respect to retaliation claims, and I commend that to your reading. However, for our purposes I want to focus on the damages section of the case. With respect to the damages section of the case, in finding that compensatory damages but not punitive damages are allowed for retaliation claims under title II of the ADA, the court reasoned as follows:
1. Since remedies for violations of title II of the ADA and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act are coextensive with each other and link to title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act remedies must be construed in the same manner applicable to remedies under title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
2. The ADA does have a retaliation provision. With respect to title II of the ADA, the remedies for retaliation link back to 42 U.S.C. § 12133. The remedies available under that section are coextensive with the remedies available in a private cause of action brought under title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which includes monetary damages.
3. Barnes v. Gorman, 536 U.S. 181 (2002), holds that when it comes to a private cause of action brought under title II of the ADA and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, only compensatory damages are allowed and not punitives because the remedies involving title VI of the Civil Rights Act are inherently contractual in nature and punitive damages are not allowed for breach of contract.
1. This case illustrates that there is a very important difference with respect to damages for retaliation claims depending upon the title of the ADA that is involved. As mentioned previously in the blog entry discussing compensatory and punitive damages with respect to a title I claims, title I retaliation claims relate back to 42 U.S.C. § 12117. If you play the string out in terms of where it leads, you wind up with the argument that compensatory and punitive damages are not available for retaliation claims under title I. As also mentioned in that blog entry, a contrary argument can be constructed. However, with title II retaliation claims, 42 U.S.C. §12203(c) specifically relates back to 42 U.S.C. § 12133, which if you follow that string out, takes you into title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which does allow, per case law, for compensatory damages.
2. Punitive damages are out for title II retaliation claims per Barnes v. Gorman, mentioned above.