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Alvarado v. Cajun Operating Co.

December 11, 2009

TANNISLADO ALVARADO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CAJUN OPERATING COMPANY, DBA AFC ENTERPRISES, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Arizona Cindy K. Jorgenson, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 04-CV-00631-CKJ.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rawlinson, Circuit Judge

FOR PUBLICATION

Argued and Submitted June 2, 2009-Las Vegas, Nevada.

Before: Johnnie B. Rawlinson and Jay S. Bybee, Circuit Judges, and Larry Burns,*fn1 District Judge.

OPINION

Appellant Tannislado Alvarado (Alvarado) filed a retaliation claim pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) alleging that Appellee Cajun Operating Co. (Cajun) retaliated against him for complaining that his manager had discriminated against him based on his disability.

Alvarado challenges the district court's grant of Cajun's motion in limine barring Alvarado from seeking punitive and compensatory damages for his ADA retaliation claim. Alva-rado also contends that the district court erred in holding that, because ADA retaliation claims are limited to equitable relief, Alvarado was not entitled to a jury trial on his retaliation claim. We agree with the district court's resolution of these issues, and affirm the judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

At the age of sixty-five, Alvarado was hired by Jesus Tapia (Tapia), the store manager of a Church's Chicken (Church's) in Tuscon, Arizona, to perform part-time maintenance work. Alvarado eventually became a cook at Church's. The cook position required the performance of various duties, including cleaning the walk-in refrigerator.

For approximately three and one-half years, Alvarado performed satisfactorily according to job evaluations from Tapia and his successor, Tina Montague (Montague). That all changed when Alvarado called Church's hotline to complain that Montague had made inappropriate comments about his age. When confronted, Montague denied any wrongdoing. However, three days later she gave Alvarado his first Performance Counseling Record (counseling record) delineating Alvarado's asserted failure to complete his daily duties, such as panning and rotating chicken, battering chicken, and cleaning the walk-in refrigerator. Olivia Martinez (Martinez), an assistant manager, gave Alvarado two additional counseling records for similar derelictions. Martinez subsequently stated that she only wrote the counseling records because Montague told her to do so. According to Martinez, Alvarado did not deserve the counseling records. However, over the next nine months, Alvarado received four more similar counseling records from assistant store manager Don Magel.

In response to the counseling reports, Alvarado called the hotline a second time, accusing Montague of retaliation against him for making the first hotline call. Alvarado also complained to Montague about the pain in his hands when he worked in the walk-in refrigerator. Montague referred Alva-rado to Dr. Robert Johnson, who "cleared [Alvarado] to return to work the same day after noting that [Alvarado] suffered only from arthritis, a condition common among people his age."

After Alvarado was terminated, he filed a lawsuit against Cajun alleging employment discrimination in violation of Title I of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12112; age discrimination in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 623; race and national origin discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and employment discrimination and retaliation claims pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3) and 42 U.S.C. § 12203.*fn2

Cajun filed a motion in limine to bar Alvarado from seeking punitive and compensatory damages for his ADA retaliation claim. Cajun also asserted that, because only equitable relief was available, Alvarado did not have a right to a jury trial on his retaliation claim.

The district court granted Cajun's motion in limine, concluding that the plain language of 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(a)(2) precluded compensatory damages, punitive damages, and trial by jury.

The district court certified an interlocutory appeal on these issues, and we granted permission to appeal the district court's interlocutory order.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"We review a district court's decision involving interpretation of a federal statute de novo." In re Digimarc Corp. Derivative Litig., 549 F.3d 1223, ...


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