Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
A recent ruling by the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico clarifies that Law 44, Puerto Rico’s counterpart to the federal American with Disabilities Act (ADA), applies only to employers and does not provide for individual liability. Accordingly, claims brought against individual defendants under Law 44 are subject to dismissal.
In Van Praag v. DHL Exp. (USA), Inc., Civil No. 13-1128 (D.P.R. Mar. 10, 2014), the plaintiff worked as a pilot and an assistant director of operations for 14 years for his employer, a company that provided aircraft services for DHL Express (USA). Around the same time that the employer informed plaintiff that due to the company’s financial situation, his salary would be drastically reduced, plaintiff informed his superiors that he was seeking treatment for depression and was taking medication that made him tired, dizzy, and diminished his capacity to fly airplanes. Due to his medical condition, plaintiff was unable to continue flying airplanes. Approximately six months later, plaintiff’s employment was terminated. Plaintiff sued the company and his supervisor as an individual defendant, alleging, among other claims, disability discrimination in violation of Law No. 44, 1 L.P.R.A. § 502. Plaintiff’s supervisor moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that neither the Puerto Rico Supreme Court nor the First Circuit has definitively ruled on the issue of individual liability under Law 44.
In dismissing the complaint against the individual defendant, the district court explained that, from its inception, Law 44 was drafted to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities by any public or private institution that received funds from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico that employs 15 or more individuals. Following the enactment of the ADA, Law 44 was amended to extend its protections to persons employed by private institutions in Puerto Rico and to conform Puerto Rico's statutory scheme to the ADA.
The court further noted that, although the Supreme Court has not ruled on the issue, the First Circuit has held that there is no individual liability under the ADA. As such, because Law 44 was modeled after the ADA, individual defendants cannot be held liable under Law 44.
With this decision, the Puerto Rico District Court has cemented the law that a claim of individual liability is not viable under local Law 44. This decision notwithstanding, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court has yet to rule on the issue. Accordingly, any employer who is presented with a Puerto Rico Law 44 discrimination claim against one of its individual employees, such as a supervisor, should move to dismiss the claim, whether it is brought in a local Puerto Rico court or a federal court in the District of Puerto Rico.