Tag Archives: Undocumented Workers

8th Cir.: Unauthorized Aliens May Sue Under the FLSA to Recover Damages for Work Performed

Lucas v. Jerusalem Cafe, LLC

Following a jury verdict, in favor of the plaintiff-employees, the defendant-employer appealed. As discussed here, the defendant-employer contended that plaintiffs, undocumented (or “illegal”) aliens lacked standing under the FLSA to assert a claim for unpaid wages. Reasoning that unauthorized aliens fit within the definition, scope and purpose of the FLSA, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the jury’s verdict in favor of the workers, and held that undocumented aliens are entitled to the FLSA’s protections regarding work already performed.

Discussing judicial precedent the Eighth Circuit explained:

The only circuit court to address the question directly, see Patel v. Quality Inn S., 846 F.2d 700 (11th Cir.1988); numerous district courts, including the one in this case; and the Secretary of Labor (Secretary) all agree: employers who unlawfully hire unauthorized aliens must otherwise comply with federal employment laws. The employers’ argument to the contrary rests on a legal theory as flawed today as it was in 1931 when jurors convicted Al Capone of failing to pay taxes on illicit income. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes explained in United States v. Sullivan, 274 U.S. 259, 263, 47 S.Ct. 607, 71 L.Ed. 1037 (1927), there is no “reason why the fact that a business is unlawful should exempt it from paying the taxes that if lawful it would have to pay.” Here, too, there is no “reason why the fact that” the employers unlawfully hired the workers “should exempt” them “from paying the” wages “that if lawful” they “would have to pay.” Id. “Certainly there is no reason for treating” the employers “more leniently.” Rutkin v. United States, 343 U.S. 130, 137, 72 S.Ct. 571, 96 L.Ed. 833 (1952). Like the Eleventh Circuit, we hold that aliens, authorized to work or not, may recover unpaid and underpaid wages under the FLSA. See Patel, 846 F.2d at 706 (“[U]ndocumented workers are ‘employees’ within the meaning of the FLSA and … such workers can bring an action under the act for unpaid wages and liquidated damages.”).

The court then went on to analyze the plain language of the FLSA:

Because this case is one of statutory interpretation, our “starting point … is the existing statutory text.” Lamie v. U.S. Tr., 540 U.S. 526, 534, 124 S.Ct. 1023, 157 L.Ed.2d 1024 (2004). As to minimum wages, the text of the FLSA states “[e]very employer shall pay to each of his employees who in any workweek is engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce, or is employed in an enterprise engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce, wages at the [minimum wage rate].” 29 U.S.C. § 206(a) (emphasis added). The FLSA’s overtime wage scheme is more complex, but the crux is simple: “[n]o employer shall employ any of his employees … for a workweek longer than forty hours unless such employee receives compensation for his employment in excess of the hours above specified at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which he is employed.” Id. § 207(a)(1).

The FLSA’s sweeping definitions of “employer” and “employee” unambiguously encompass unauthorized aliens:

(d) “Employer” includes any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee and includes a public agency, but does not include any labor organization (other than when acting as an employer) or anyone acting in the capacity of officer or agent of such labor organization.

(e)(1) [With certain statutorily defined exceptions], the term “employee” means any individual employed by an employer.

….

(g) “Employ” includes to suffer or permit to work.

29 U.S.C. § 203(d), (e)(1), (g) (emphasis added). During debate over the FLSA, then-Senator Hugo Black (who, shortly before his elevation to the Supreme Court, sponsored the bill that ultimately became the FLSA) called the FLSA’s “definition of employee … the broadest definition that has ever been included in any one act.” 81 Cong. Rec. 7656–57 (1937).

Importantly, Congress showed elsewhere in the statute that it “knows how to” limit this broad definition “when it means to,” City of Milwaukee v. Illinois & Michigan, 451 U.S. 304, 329 n. 22, 101 S.Ct. 1784, 68 L.Ed.2d 114 (1981), and it did not do so with respect to unauthorized aliens. See 29 U.S.C. § 203(e). The FLSA contains detailed limitations for certain governmental employees, see id. § 203(e)(2); family members engaged in agricultural work, see id. § 203(e)(3); state, local, and interstate governmental volunteers, see id. § 203(e)(4); and “individuals who volunteer their services solely for humanitarian purposes to private non-profit food banks and who receive from the food banks groceries,” id. § 203(e)(5). Nowhere in this list do we see any indication Congress meant to exclude unauthorized aliens from the FLSA’s broad application to “any individual” whom an employer “suffer[s] or permit[s] to work.” Id. § 203(e)(1), (g).

As the Supreme Court has long emphasized, “where, as here, the statute’s language is plain, ‘the sole function of the courts is to enforce it according to its terms.’ ” United States v. Ron Pair Enters., Inc., 489 U.S. 235, 241, 109 S.Ct. 1026, 103 L.Ed.2d 290 (1989) (quoting Caminetti v. United States, 242 U.S. 470, 485, 37 S.Ct. 192, 61 L.Ed. 442 (1917)). Because the FLSA by its plain terms protects aliens working without authorization, the employers’ argument must fail unless the employers can point to a different statutory basis for limiting “the broadest definition that has ever been included in any one act,” 81 Cong. Rec. at 7657.

Rejecting the defendant’s argument that the IRCA and Hoffman Plastic supported a conclusion that such workers were not entitled to the FLSA’s statutory protections, the court reasoned:

The employers point to the Supreme Court’s decision in Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB, 535 U.S. 137, 122 S.Ct. 1275, 152 L.Ed.2d 271 (2002), for the proposition that the IRCA implicitly amended the FLSA to exclude unauthorized aliens. The employers misread Hoffman, ignore the relevant agency’s reasonable interpretations of the FLSA and the IRCA, and “ascribe to Congress an intent at variance with the purpose[s] of th[e] statute [s],” Wyandotte Transp. Co. v. United States, 389 U.S. 191, 200, 88 S.Ct. 379, 19 L.Ed.2d 407 (1967).

In Hoffman, the Supreme Court held that unauthorized aliens may not receive backpay after being terminated for engaging in union activities protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 151169. See Hoffman, 535 U.S. at 151–52, 122 S.Ct. 1275. The issue in Hoffman was not, as the employers seem to think, whether the NLRA’s broad definitions of “employer” and “employee,” see 29 U.S.C. § 152, excluded unauthorized aliens from all protection by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). See Hoffman, 535 U.S. at 142–43, 122 S.Ct. 1275. Rather, the question in Hoffman was whether the NLRB’s remedial power extended far enough to “allow it to award backpay to an illegal alien for years of work not performed.” Id. at 149, 122 S.Ct. 1275 (emphasis added). Far from concluding the NLRA did not protect unauthorized aliens for work actually performed, the Hoffman court—after considering Congress’s intervening enactment of the IRCA—reaffirmed its earlier holding in Sure–Tan, Inc. v. NLRB, 467 U.S. 883, 104 S.Ct. 2803, 81 L.Ed.2d 732 (1984), that the NLRA applies to the actual employment of unauthorized aliens. See Hoffman, 535 U.S. at 151–52, 122 S.Ct. 1275;Sure–Tan, 467 U.S. at 893–94, 104 S.Ct. 2803.

Not only is our reading of Hoffman consistent with the overwhelming majority of post-Hoffman decisions by courts at every level, but “[n]o circuit court has reached a contrary conclusion,” Agri Processor Co. v. NLRB, 514 F.3d 1, 5–6 (D.C.Cir.2008). In Madeira v. Affordable Hous. Found., Inc., 469 F.3d 219 (2d Cir.2006), the Second Circuit explained:

[A]n order requiring an employer to pay his undocumented workers the minimum wages prescribed by the [FLSA] for labor actually and already performed…. does not … condone that violation or continue it. It merely ensures that the employer does not take advantage of the violation by availing himself of the benefit of undocumented workers’ past labor without paying for it in accordance with minimum FLSA standards.

Id. at 243. Interpreting an analogous definition of “employee” in Agri Processor, the D.C. Circuit found “absolutely no evidence that in passing IRCA Congress intended to repeal the NLRA to the extent its definition of ‘employee’ include[d] undocumented aliens.” Agri Processor, 514 F.3d at 5.

The court also noted that the Eleventh Circuit had recently reiterated the undocumented aliens were protected by the FLSA, further supporting its conclusion regarding same:

Shortly after our court heard argument in this case, the Eleventh Circuit reaffirmed its decision in Patel “that undocumented aliens may recover their unpaid wages under the FLSA.” Lamonica v. Safe Hurricane Shutters, Inc., 711 F.3d 1299, 1306 (11th Cir.2013). Rejecting arguments similar to those advanced by the employers here, the Eleventh Circuit concluded “the IRCA does not express Congress’s clear and manifest intent to exclude undocumented aliens from the protection of the FLSA.” Id. at 1308.

The court found further support in the fact that the DOL has long taken the position that undocumented aliens are covered under the FLSA:

As the Secretary explains, there is no conflict between the FLSA and the IRCA. Both statutes work in tandem to discourage employers from hiring unauthorized workers by “assur[ing] that the wages and employment of lawful residents are not adversely affected by the competition of illegal alien employees who are not subject to the standard terms of employment,” Sure–Tan, 467 U.S. at 893, 104 S.Ct. 2803.

The Department of Labor’s position that the FLSA applies to aliens without employment authorization is longstanding and consistent. In 1942, just four years after the FLSA’s passage, the Department of Labor’s “Wage and Hour Administrator opined that alien prisoners of war were covered by the [FLSA] and therefore were entitled to be paid the minimum wage.” Patel, 846 F.2d at 703. Since then, in case after case, the Department of Labor has taken the same position it takes here.

In the Secretary’s amicus brief filed in this case, the Secretary explains that applying the FLSA to unauthorized aliens “is essential to achieving the purposes of the FLSA to protect workers from substandard working conditions, to reduce unfair competition for law-abiding employers, and to spread work and thereby reduce unemployment by requiring employers to pay overtime compensation.” Given the Department’s decades-long consistency and the Secretary’s “specialized experience and broader investigations and information” in these matters, we think the Secretary’s position is persuasive and merits Skidmore deference—to the extent there is any statutory ambiguity. Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134, 139, 65 S.Ct. 161, 89 L.Ed. 124 (1944); see also Godinez–Arroyo v. Mukasey, 540 F.3d 848, 850 (8th Cir.2008).

Finally the court recognized Congressional intent also supported its conclusion:

We agree with the Secretary’s position, independent of any deference to the Department of Labor’s expertise, because Congress’s purposes in enacting the FLSA and the IRCA are in harmony. The IRCA unambiguously prohibits hiring unauthorized aliens, and the FLSA unambiguously requires that any unauthorized aliens—hired in violation of federal immigration law—be paid minimum and overtime wages. The IRCA and FLSA together promote dignified employment conditions for those working in this country, regardless of immigration status, while firmly discouraging the employment of individuals who lack work authorization. “If an employer realizes that there will be no advantage under the” FLSA “in preferring [unauthorized] aliens to legal resident workers, any incentive to hire such … aliens is correspondingly lessened.” Sure–Tan, 467 U.S. at 893, 104 S.Ct. 2803. Exempting unauthorized aliens from the FLSA would frustrate the purposes of the IRCA, for unauthorized workers’ “acceptance … of jobs on substandard terms as to wages and working conditions can seriously depress wage scales and working conditions of citizens and legally admitted aliens.” De Canas v. Bica, 424 U.S. 351, 356–57, 96 S.Ct. 933, 47 L.Ed.2d 43 (1976).

Holding employers who violate federal immigration law and federal employment law liable for both violations advances the purpose of federal immigration policy by “offset[ting] what is perhaps the most attractive feature of [unauthorized] workers—their willingness to work for less than the minimum wage.” Patel, 846 F.2d at 704. For this reason, prohibiting employers from hiring unauthorized aliens is in harmony with requiring employers—including those who break immigration laws by hiring unauthorized workers—to provide fair working conditions and wages. Both (1) the legislative history of the IRCA, which we reference “for those who find legislative history useful,” United States v. Tinklenberg, 563 U.S. ––––, ––––, 131 S.Ct. 2007, 2015, 179 L.Ed.2d 1080 (2011), and (2) “our steadfast canons of statutory construction,” United States v. Johnson, 703 F.3d 464, 468 (8th Cir.2013), confirm this point.

First, the House Committee on Education and Labor’s report on the IRCA explained Congress did

not intend that any provision of [the IRCA] would limit the powers of State or Federal labor standards agencies such as … the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor … to remedy unfair practices committed against undocumented employees for exercising their rights before such agencies or for engaging in activities protected by these agencies. To do otherwise would be counter-productive of our intent to limit the hiring of undocumented employees and the depressing effect on working conditions caused by their employment.

H.R.Rep. No. 99–682(II), at 1 (1986), reprinted in 1986 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5757, 5758 (emphasis added). When Congress passed the IRCA, at least the authors of this report expected the FLSA would continue to protect unauthorized aliens from substandard working conditions and wages.

Second, § 111(d) of the IRCA “authorized to be appropriated, … such sums as may be necessary to the Department of Labor for enforcement activities of the Wage and Hour Division … in order to deter the employment of unauthorized aliens and remove the economic incentive for employers to exploit and use such aliens.Pub.L. No. 99–603, § 111(d), 100 Stat. 3359, 3381 (1986). Presuming, as the employers do, that the IRCA impliedly exempts unauthorized aliens from the protections of the FLSA would render this section “mere surplusage,” Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 174, 2 L.Ed. 60 (1803). No “sums” would “be necessary” to enforce the FLSA as to unauthorized aliens if the FLSA did not apply to their employment. § 111(d), 100 Stat. at 3381. A reading that turns an entire subsection into a meaningless aside “is inadmissible, unless the words require it.” Marbury, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) at 174. The IRCA’s words do not require it, so “the presumption against surplusage [is] decisive.” Johnson, 703 F.3d at 468.

As such, the court held that “unauthorized aliens may sue under the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 206(a), 207(a), 216(b), to recover statutory damages for work actually performed.”

Click Lucas v. Jerusalem Cafe, LLC to read the entire opinion.  Click DOL Amicus Brief to read the Secretary of Labor’s Amicus Curiae Brief, submitted in support of the Plaintiffs-Appellees.

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Recent Conditional Certification Decisions of Interest

Anyone who has ever moved for or opposed a motion for conditional certification (i.e. a “Stage 1″ motion) of a collective action is likely familiar with the common defense tactic whereby a defendant asserts that the named plaintiff and members of the putative class are not similarly situated. Typically a defendant argues that individualized issues pertaining to the claims of the named plaintiff(s) (and members within the putative class) render the case ill-suited for class/collective treatment. As discussed below, three recent decisions discuss three separate issues related to this analysis. In the first, a court held that a pro se plaintiff could not adequately serve the interests of the putative class and denied conditional certification. However, in the second and third cases discussed below, the courts rejected the defendants’ contentions that: (1) an undocumented (“illegal”) immigrant was ill-suited to serve as a representative plaintiff; and (2) issues regarding whether specific putative class members signed binding arbitration agreements relating to the issues raised by the named-plaintiff were not properly raised at stage 1.

Pro Se Plaintiff Inadequate Representative for Collective Action

Koch v. CHS Inc.

In the first case, the pro se plaintiff (apparently fairly savvy) moved for conditional certification. Denying the motion, the court held that a pro se plaintiff cannot pursue their claims in a collective action for lack of adequacy of representation. Specifically, the court explained:

The issue of whether a pro se plaintiff can sue on behalf of other members in a collective action is one of adequacy of representation. Determining adequate representation is typically based on a two-part inquiry: “First, the named representatives must appear able to prosecute the action vigorously through qualified counsel, and second, the representatives must not have antagonistic or conflicting interests with the unnamed members of the class.” Lerwill v. Inflight Motion Pictures, Inc., 582 F.2d 507, 512 (9th Cir.1978). Courts have generally concluded that a pro se plaintiff cannot pursue claims on behalf of others in a representative capacity. See Simon v. Hartford Life, Inc., 546 F.3d 661, 664 (9th Cir.2008); see also Johns v. County of San Diego, 114 F.3d 874, 876 (9th Cir.1997) (“While a non-attorney may appear pro se on his ow n behalf, he has no authority to appear as an attorney for others than himself.”); C.E. Pope Equity Trust v. United States, 818 F.2d 696, 697 (9th Cir.1987) (holding that a pro se litigant may not appear as an attorney for others). Here, because Koch is a pro se litigant, he cannot pursue claims on behalf of other CHS employees in a representative capacity.

The rule holds true for pro se plaintiffs seeking to bring collective action suits under the F LSA. Morgovsky v. AdBrite, Inc. ., No. C10–05143–SBA, 2012 WL 1595105 *4 (N.D.Cal. May 4, 2012) (denying pro se plaintiff’s motion to bring a collective action under the FLSA and dismissing collective action claims); Spivey v. Sprint/United Mgt. Co., No. 04–2285–JWL, 2004 WL 3048840 (D.Kan. Dec.30, 2004) (holding that a claim under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) cannot be brought by a pro se plaintiff).

Accordingly, the Court agrees with CHS that Koch, because he proceeds in the litigation pro se, cannot represent the class members on whose behalf he purports to bring suit. Therefore, proceeding with the litigation as a collective action is not permitted pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). The motion will be denied.

Click Koch v. CHS Inc. to read the entire Memorandum Decision and Order.

Named-Plaintiff’s Immigration Status Has No Bearing on Similarly Situated Analysis

Torres v. Cache Cache, Ltd.

In the second case of interest, arising from alleged tip pool violations at defendant’s restaurant, the defendant opposed conditional certification, in part, based on the fact that the named-plaintiff was allegedly an undocumented immigrant. The court rejected this notion, citing well-established authority that an FLSA plaintiff’s immigration status is irrelevant to a claim inasmuch thereunder, inasmuch as same seeks payment for work already performed. Discussing this issue the court reasoned:

Finally, in an apparent attempt to distinguish Plaintiff from other proposed collective action members, Defendants note his status as an illegal immigrant and involvement in other similar FLSA lawsuits. Neither of these issues, however, is likely to provide Defendants with a valid defense that is unique to Plaintiff. First, there are a number of cases finding that evidence of immigration status has no relevance in an FLSA action. See e.g. Reyes v. Snowcap Creamery, Inc., 2012 WL 4888476 at *2 (D.Colo. Oct.15, 2012) (recognizing that “weight of authority clearly holds that a plaintiff’s immigration status is irrelevant in an FLSA action” and citing supporting authority). It is also questionable whether Defendants will be able to introduce evidence of other lawsuits involving Plaintiff. See Van Deelen v. Johnson, 2008 WL 4683022 at *2 (D.Kan. Oct.22, 2008) (evidence of plaintiff’s prior lawsuits cannot be admitted for purpose of proving that plaintiff is litigious but may be admissible for other purposes).

Click Torres v. Cache Cache, Ltd. to read the entire Order.

Whether Putative Class Members’ Claims Are Subject to Arbitration is an Issue Reserved for Stage 2

Hernandez v. Immortal Rise, Inc.

In the final decision, the court had before it the Report and Recommendation of the magistrate judge recommending conditional certification. As it had in its opposition to the underlying motion, the defendant argued that members of the putative class who had previously signed agreements to arbitrate their FLSA claims, were not similarly situated to the plaintiff and the remainder of the putative class. As such, the defendant argued such putative class members should be excluded from receiving notice of their right to join the case by opting in. Rejecting this contention, the court held that the issue of whether (and who) may have signed arbitration agreements, is an issue reserved for Stage 2 (decertification) analysis, and is not properly addressed at the conditional certification stage:

Next, defendants argue that the proposed class should be limited to cashiers and those who had not signed arbitration agreements, excluding grocery packers and delivery workers, whom defendants never employed, and employees subject to arbitration agreements. However, these are issues of fact that should be determined during discovery rather than at this preliminary stage. See D’Antuono v. C & G of Groton, Inc., No. 11–cv–33, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135402, at *12–13 (D.Conn. Nov. 23, 2011) (holding that the enforceability of arbitration agreements should not be determined during conditional class certification); Lujan v. Cabana Mgmt., No. 10–cv–755, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9542, at *23–24, 2011 WL 317984 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 1, 2011) (quoting Realite v. Ark Rests. Corp., 7 F.Supp.2d 303, 307 (S.D.N.Y.1998)) (holding that defendants’ contention that its restaurants constituted separate entities raised a contested issue of fact, and was therefore not a basis for denying conditional class certification). Thus, Judge Bloom correctly found that the proposed class should not be limited as defendants propose.

Click Hernandez v. Immortal Rise, Inc. to read the entire Order.

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E.D.N.Y.: Notice Language Advising Undocumented Immigrants That Their Immigration Status is Irrelevant Approved

Enriquez v. Cherry Hill Market Corp.

This case was before the court on the plaintiff’s motion for conditional certification.  As discussed here, it is of interest, because of the language the court approved with regard to the Notice to be sent to the class.  Specifically, among other things, the court ruled that a warning to potential opt-ins that they may have to participate in the case was unduly chilling and further held that it was appropriate to notify putative class members that their immigration status is irrelevant to their right to recover under the FLSA.

Discussing the latter issue, the court explained:

“The proposed notice informs potential plaintiffs, ‘You have a right to participate in this action even if you are an undocumented alien or if you were paid in cash.’ Not. of Motion, Ex. 3. The plaintiffs states that this information is necessary to reassure potential plaintiffs, many of whom will be ‘foreign-born workers who have little command of English [and] are probably unfamiliar with the American legal system.’ Reply Mem. of Law at 7. The defendants respond that it implies that there employment practices violated immigration and/or labor laws.”

Although the court toned down the language the plaintiff had proposed, ultimately it approved language clarifying that the putative class members’ immigration status was/is irrelevant:

“The Court agrees that the language appropriately corrects a possible assumption that the FLSA does not cover illegal immigrants or workers paid in cash. Its size and placement, however, are unnecessarily inflammatory. Plaintiffs are ordered to remove the language and, instead, add to the end of paragraph beginning “You may be owed payment …” that potential plaintiffs may be owed payment even if they were paid in cash and regardless of their immigration status, or words to that effect.”

Click Enriquez v. Cherry Hill Market Corp. to read the entire Memorandum and Order.

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E.D.N.Y.: Defendant Precluded From Offering Evidence of Plaintiffs’ Immigration Status at Trial

Solis v. Cindy’s Total Care, Inc.

This case, brought by the Secretary of Labor, was before the court on the Secretary’s Motion in Limine to exclude any reference to plaintiffs’ immigration status at trial, due to irrelevance.  The underlying case concerned nails techs who worked at defendant’s nail salon, presumably at least some of whom were undocumented workers.  The court agreed with the Secretary that such information was irrelevant to the issues at bar- namely whether defendant had failed to properly compensate plaintiffs for their previous overtime work.

Framing the issue, the court explained:

“At issue here is a motion in limine brought by the Secretary, seeking to preclude Cindy’s from introducing at trial evidence of the immigration status or national origin of any of Cindy’s employees and from questioning employee witnesses as to these subjects. In its answer, Cindy’s had identified the immigration status of its employees as an affirmative defense. Cindy’s stated that employees’ immigration status “is important for future wages” and that claims as to such wages therefore “are barred in this case .” At an October 13, 2011 pretrial conference, counsel for Cindy’s reiterated its intention to elicit evidence of the immigration status and national origin of one or more employees whose wages are at issue.”

 Granting plaintiffs’ motion, the court reasoned:

“In this case, an employee’s immigration status, or national origin, is clearly irrelevant to a claim for back pay for overtime wages under the FLSA. By its terms, the FLSA applies to “any individual” employed by an employer, as the term “employer” is defined by the Act. 29 U.S.C. § 203(e)(1). The Act contains no exception or exclusion for persons who are not U.S. citizens or who are in this country illegally.

For this reason, the courts to consider this issue have uniformly held that any person, regardless of his or her immigration status, who is employed by an employer, may pursue an action under the Act for work actually performed. See, e.g., Corona v. Adriatic Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria, 2010 WL 675702, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Feb.23, 2010) (citing Patel v. Quality Inn South, 846 F.2d 700, 702 (11th Cir.1988), cert. denied, 489 U.S. 1011, 109 S.Ct. 1120, 103 L.Ed.2d 182 (1989)). Indeed, cases have held that employees’ immigration status or national origin is not even a suitable area for pretrial discovery. See, e . g., Liu v. Donna Karan Int’l, Inc., 207 F.Supp.2d 191, 192 (S.D.N.Y.2002) ( “plaintiff-workers’ immigration status in cases seeking unpaid wages brought under the FLSA” held “undiscoverable”); Renfigo v. Erevos Enter. Inc., 2007 WL 894376, *2 (S.D.N.Y. Mar.20, 2008) (plaintiff’s “immigration status and authority to work is a collateral issue” and not discoverable).

In its answer, Cindy’s asserted that employees’ immigration status might be relevant in an action seeking to recover “future wages.” There is no occasion to address that issue here. The Secretary has stated clearly that that the monetary relief she seeks to obtain on behalf of Cindy’s employees in this case is exclusively retrospective, in the form of back wages owed to current or former employees as a result of Cindy’s alleged failure to pay them overtime wages for the overtime hours that they worked.

This is also not a case in which an employee’s immigration status may be relevant to impeachment. Where an employee witness had falsely attested to United States citizenship or had fabricated naturalization documents, evidence of the employee’s illegal immigration status might well be relevant to credibility. However, the Court would still have to determine whether the probative value of such evidence was substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice or confusion, see Fed.R.Evid. 403, including the potential chilling, in terrorem effect on undocumented alien employees who might be deterred from coming forward to report FLSA infractions or to testify at trial. See, e.g., Flores v. Amigon, 233 F.Supp.2d 462, 464–65 (E.D.N.Y.2002). Here, however, at the October 13, 2011 hearing, Cindy’s expressly disclaimed an intent to offer immigration status as evidence of impeachment. As a result, no such impeachment evidence will be permitted at trial.”

Click Solis v. Cindy’s Total Care, Inc. to read the entire Opinion and Order.

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D.Mass.: FLSA Defendant Not Entitled to Discovery of Plaintiff’s Immigration Status

Jin-Ming Lin v. Chinatown Restaurant Corp.

This case was before the court on the parties cross-motions to compel discovery.  It appears that, as often occurs, the defendant was all too happy to employ plaintiff, an undocumented immigrant, prior to plaintiff’s filing of his FLSA case.  However, once the FLSA case was filed, the employer sought to fight the FLSA claim on the basis of plaintiff’s immigration status.  As discussed here, the court denied defendant’s motion to compel discovery of plaintiff’s immigration status.  Apparently this was an issue of first impression in the First Circuit, as the court noted that no prior court within the First Circuit had decided this hot-button issue.  While the court reached the same conclusion as most- that such information was irrelevant, because FLSA rights are absolute, regardless of immigration status- it noted that it’s reasoning was divergent from the majority of courts.

Denying the defendant’s motion and noting that such information was irrelevant to a case under the FLSA, the court reasoned:

“Nonetheless, while I find the reasoning advanced by other courts in holding that illegal aliens may recover for unpaid wages under the FLSA to be insufficient, I come to the same ultimate conclusion for a different reason that has not, so far as I know, yet been relied on. Awards for back pay under the NLRA, at issue in Hoffman, are discretionary. See 29 U.S.C. § 160(c) (Courts may order “reinstatement of employees with or without back pay ….”); see also NLRB v. Harding Glass Co., 500 F.3d 1, 8 (1st Cir.2007) (NLRB has “broad remedial powers” under 29 U.S.C. § 160(c) including “discretion both to determine that back pay is appropriate … and to compute the back pay amount.”). As Hoffman recognized, agencies are required to exercise their discretion in light of other federal policies. 535 U.S. at 146 (“In devising remedies for unfair labor practices, the Board is obliged to take into account [other] equally important Congressional objective[s].”) (internal quotation omitted). This basic tenet of administrative law is what first prompted the Court in Hoffman to look at federal immigration policy as a limit on the NLRB’s authority and discretion to award back pay in the circumstances. See id. at 143-44.

In contrast, awards for unpaid wages under the FLSA are not discretionary, but rather a matter of statutory entitlement when the necessary factual predicate has been established. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) (“Any employer who violates the [minimum wage or overtime provisions of the FLSA] shall be liable to the employee or employees affected in the amount of their unpaid minimum wages, or their unpaid overtime compensation.”) (emphasis added). Courts do not have discretion to deny the award of FLSA damages when they have been proved. Adjudication of an FLSA cause of action does not call upon the court to make a discretionary policy- or interest-balancing assessment. See Keith Cunningham-Parmeter, Redefining the Rights of Undocumented Workers, 58 Am. U.L.Rev. 1361, 1389 (2009) (remarking that the nondiscretionary nature of back pay under the FLSA “leaves no room for any type of Hoffman-inspired balancing between federal labor and immigration objectives”).

Of course, the tension between policies underlying the FLSA, on the one hand, and the IRCA, on the other, continues to exist. In Hoffman, the Court was able to find a resolution by giving priority to the statutory policy of the IRCA over the administrative discretion of the NLRB. That resolution is not possible where both poles of the conflict are statutory directives. A court entertaining an FLSA suit lacks the authority or discretion to resolve the tension. If a plaintiff makes out an FLSA case, he is entitled to an FLSA remedy, any obstruction or interference with immigration policy notwithstanding. As Judge Walker of the Second Circuit noted, after that circuit tackled a particularly confounding case of conflict preemption under Hoffman, “judges are especially ill-suited to divining the unexpressed will of Congress when it comes to hot-button and ever-shifting issues like immigration policy.” Madeira, 469 F.3d at 254 (Walker, C.J., concurring). Any remedy for an incompatibility between federal labor and immigration policies will have to come from Congress, not the lower courts.

For the foregoing reasons, the plaintiffs’ immigration status is irrelevant to their FLSA claims and their suitability to lead a class. The defendants’ motions to compel (dkt. nos. 28 & 29) are DENIED.”

Click Jin-Ming Lin v. Chinatown Restaurant Corp. to read the entire decision.

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N.D.Cal.: Undocumented Worker’s Submission Of False Documents To Obtain Employment Has No Bearing On FLSA Claims For Unpaid Wages Or Liquidated Damages

Ulin v. Lovell’s Antique Gallery

This case was before the Court on the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment on a variety of issues.  As discussed here, the Defendants asserted that the Plaintiff, an undocumented immigrant, was not entitled to recover unpaid overtime wages and/or liquidated damages under the FLSA, because he fraudulently obtained his job by providing false documents to the Defendants.  The Court roundly rejected this assertion, ruling that neither Plaintiff’s immigration status nor how he obtained his job had any impact on his FLSA claims.

Discussing these issues, the Court reasoned:

“Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s submission of false documents at the time of his employment precludes any recovery of overtime pay. Defendants point to the declaration of immigration attorney Jason Marachi, who reviewed the documents that Plaintiff submitted to Defendants at the time of his employment, performed an independent investigation, and concluded that Plaintiff submitted false work authorization documents to his employer and was not working legally in the United States while he worked for Defendants. See generally Marachi Decl. Plaintiff has not raised any factual dispute on this issue, but disagrees that his recovery of damages is affected.

Defendants rely primarily on Reyes v. Van Elk, Ltd., 148 Cal.App. 4th 604, 611 (2007), where the court stated that:

Thus, as presented to this court, this case does not involve a situation where undocumented workers submitted false work authorization documents to a prospective employer. (See e.g., Ulloa v. Al’s All Tree Service, Inc. (Dist.Ct.2003) 2 Misc.3d 262, 768 N.Y.S.2d 556, 558 [“The Court also notes in passing that, if there had been proof in this case that the Plaintiff had obtained his employment by tendering false documents (activity that is explicitly unlawful under IRCA), Hoffman would require that the wage claim [for unpaid wages] be disallowed in its entirety.”].) However, the issue of whether Hoffman requires that a wage claim be denied if an employee submitted false authorization documents is not before this court.

However, Reyes expressly did not reach the issue raised by Defendants, and therefore is of little help to them. Hoffman Plastic Components, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board, 535 U.S. 137 (2002), cited by Reyes, foreclosed an award of backpay under the National Labor Relations Act to a worker who had submitted false documents to his employer because the Court found that an award of backpay “for years of work not performed, for wages that could not lawfully have been earned, and for a job obtained in the first instance by criminal fraud” would run counter to immigration policy. Id. at 149, 151. Hoffman did not involve a case such as this, where Plaintiff claims to have already performed the work in question and seeks payment for that work, and so it is also not directly on point.

Plaintiff argues that regardless of whether he presented false documents and was working illegally, he is entitled to recover his earned wages. Plaintiff notes that the cases interpreting Hoffman have not applied it to bar recovery of wages already earned. See, e.g., Singh v. Jutla & C.D. & R’s Oil, Inc., 214 F .Supp.2d 1056, 1061 (N.D.Cal.2002) (Breyer, J.) (quoting Flores v.. Albertsons, Inc., 2002 WL 1163623 (C.D.Cal.2002) (“Hoffman does not establish that an award of unpaid wages to undocumented workers for work actually performed runs counter to IRCA.”); Opp. at 19 (citing cases).

The case cited in Reyes, Ulloa v. Al’s All Tree Service, Inc., 768 N.Y.S.2d 556, 558 (Dist.Ct.2003), does not mandate a contrary result. Ulloa is New York small claims court decision where the Court limited an undocumented worker’s recovery of unpaid wages to the minimum wage, and then noted “in passing that, if there had been proof in this case that the Plaintiff had obtained his employment by tendering false documents (activity that is explicitly unlawful under IRCA), Hoffman would require that the wage claim [for unpaid wages] be disallowed in its entirety.” No case has followed this portion of Ulloa, or otherwise affirmatively held than an undocumented worker is precluded from recovering wages for work already performed simply because he submitted false documents at the time of employment. Indeed, a higher New York court has expressly rejected Ulloa ‘s dicta, and instead held that: “If federal courts ban discovery on immigration status in unpaid wages cases, the use of fraudulent documents on immigration status to gain employment in unpaid wages cases is likewise irrelevant. The only crucial issue is whether the undocumented worker performed services for which the worker deserves compensation. If so, public policy requires payment so that employers do not intentionally hire undocumented workers for the express purpose of citing the workers’ undocumented status or their use of fraudulent documents as a way to avoid payment of wages.” Pineda v. Kel-Tech Const., Inc., 832 N.Y.S.2d 386, 396 (N.Y.Sup.2007).

At oral argument, Defendants contended that, even if Plaintiff’s employment status does not require that all of his claims be disallowed, Hoffman precludes an award of liquidated damages under the FLSA. Defendants’ argument appears to be that FLSA liquidated damages are akin to the backpay for work not performed due to wrongful termination at issue in Hoffman, in that they go beyond simply compensating for past work, and therefore federal immigration policy makes this remedy unavailable to Plaintiff because it would reward violation of immigration laws while punishing the employer. There is no case expressly addressing the issue of whether FLSA liquidated damages are available to a plaintiff who presented false documents to his employer. While a close question, and one that pits important governmental policies relating to labor and immigration against each other, the Court’s interpretation of the statute and the caselaw runs counter to Defendants’ position.

First, the plain language of the FLSA mandates liquidated damages in an amount equal to the unpaid wages unless the employer “shows to the satisfaction of the court that the act or omission giving rise to such action was in good faith and that he had reasonable grounds for believing that his act or omission was not a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended,” in which case “the court may, in its sound discretion, award no liquidated damages or award any amount thereof …” 29 U.S.C. § 260. “Under 29 U.S.C. § 260, the employer has the burden of establishing subjective and objective good faith in its violation of the FLSA.” Local 246 Utility Workers Union of America v. Southern California Edison Co., 83 F.3d 292, 297-298 (9th Cir.1996). Thus, the plain language of the FLSA’s liquidated damages provision focuses exclusively on the employer’s conduct, not the employee’s conduct. There is nothing in the language of the statute that allows the Court to take Plaintiff’s misconduct into account in determining whether to award liquidated damages. To the contrary, the imposition of liquidated damages is mandatory unless the employer establishes its own good faith.

Second, under the FLSA, “liquidated damages represent compensation, and not a penalty. Double damages are the norm, single damages the exception.” Local 246 Util. Workers Union v. S. Cal. Edison Co., 83 F.3d 292, 297 (9th Cir.1996); see also Overnight Motor Transp. Co. v. Missel, 316 U.S. 572, 584 (1942) (liquidated damages compensate for damages too obscure and difficult of proof), superceded by statute on other grounds; Herman v. RSR Sec. Services Ltd., 172 F.3d 132, 142 (2d Cir.1999) (“Liquidated damages are not a penalty exacted by the law, but rather compensation to the employee occasioned by the delay in receiving wages due caused by the employer’s violation of the FLSA”). Congress provided for liquidated damages because it recognized that those protected by federal wage and hour laws would have the most difficulty maintaining a minimum standard of living without receiving minimum and overtime wages and thus “that double payment must be made in the event of delay in order to insure restoration of the worker to that minimum standard of well-being.” See Brooklyn Sav. Bank v. O’Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 707 (1945).

Following Hoffman, “[c]ourts have distinguished between awards of post-termination back pay for work not actually performed and awards of unpaid wages pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (‘FLSA’).” Zeng Liu v. Donna Karan Intern., Inc., 207 F.Supp.2d 191, 192 (S.D.N.Y.2002); see also Widjaja v. Kang Yue USA Corp., 2010 WL 2132068, *1 (E.D.N.Y.2010). In Flores v. Amigon, 233 F.Supp.2d 462 (E.D.N.Y.2002), the court held that Hoffman did not apply to FLSA cases in which workers sought pay for work actually performed, and that, “enforcing the FLSA’s provisions requiring employers to pay proper wages to undocumented aliens when the work has been performed actually furthers the goal of the IRCA” because if the FLSA did not apply to undocumented aliens, employers would have a greater incentive to hire illegal aliens with the knowledge that they could not be sued for violating minimum wage requirements. While the interest in deterring employers from knowingly hiring undocumented workers in order to avoid lawsuits for wage violations does not apply when an employee uses false documents to successfully deceive an unknowing employer who attempted to comply with immigration law, the interest in deterrence does apply when the employer had reason to suspect or knew that the employee was not authorized to work in the United States but hired him anyway, colluding in the use of false documents. The record here is silent as to whether Defendants were successfully deceived as to Plaintiff’s authorization to work or instead knew or suspected that his documents were falsified.

Unlike the backpay for hours not worked at issue in Hoffman, here the liquidated damages are a form of compensation for time worked that cannot otherwise be calculated. See also Singh v. Jutla & C.D. & R’s Oil, Inc., 214 F.Supp.2d 1056 (N.D Cal.2002) (Breyer, J.) (stating that Hoffman did not address remedies of compensatory and punitive damages, and holding that undocumented employee could proceed with FLSA retaliation claim); Galdames v. N & D Investment Corp., 2008 WL 4372889 (S.D.Fla. Sept. 24, 2008) (finding that Hoffman did not overrule previous rule that an “undocumented worked may bring claims for unpaid wages and liquidated damages” for work already performed); Renteria v. Italia Foods, Inc., 2003 WL 21995190, *5-6 (N.D.Ill.2003) (striking FLSA backpay and frontpay claims in light of Hoffman /IRCA, but allowing claim for compensatory damages).

While none of the cases cited above involve an employee who affirmatively presented false documents, as opposed to simply being undocumented, Hoffman did not preclude compensatory damages for time already worked on the basis that the employee presented false documents. While the Hoffman Court was certainly concerned about the fact that the plaintiff had criminally violated IRCA by presenting false documents and was therefore never authorized to work in the United States, it also focused on the facts that: (1) the plaintiff had not actually performed the work for which he was seeking backpay, (2) he was only entitled to the backpay award by remaining in the country illegally, and (3) he could not mitigate damages as required without triggering further a IRCA violation. Here, by contrast, no further employment by Plaintiff is at issue as he only seeks compensation for work performed before his termination by Defendants and the issue of mitigating damages is not present, unlike in Hoffman. Further, as the Hoffman Court held, the NLRB’s other “ ‘traditional remedies’ [were] sufficient to effectuate national labor policy regardless of whether the ‘spur and catalyst’ of backpay accompanies them.” In contrast, FLSA liquidated damages are not a “spur and catalyst,” but instead numerous courts have found that they are intended as compensation for unpaid wages already earned but too difficult to calculate. Therefore, Defendants’ Motion is DENIED on this issue.”

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Filed under Immigration Status, Liquidated Damages