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E.D.N.Y.: Defendant Not Entitled To Discovery Of FLSA Plaintiff’s Immigration Status

Widjaja v. Kang Yue USA Corp.

This case was before the Court, in part, on defendants motion to compel discovery of plaintiffs’ immigration status.  Joining the majority of Courts to have ruled on such motions, the Court denied defendants’ Motion.

Defendants asserted two reasons to discover the immigration status of the plaintiffs for two reasons.  First, they claimed the plaintiffs’ status in this country was relevant to plaintiffs’ credibility, arguing that if plaintiffs entered the country illegally then they are more likely to make false claims regarding hours worked.  Second, defendants argued that if it is discovered that plaintiffs are illegal immigrants, then they would not be entitled to back pay for future loss of earnings since they would not be permitted to work under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (“IRCA”). See Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB, 535 U.S. 137, 122 S.Ct. 1275, 152 L.Ed.2d 271 (2002) (holding that the IRCA prevents the NLRB from awarding backpay to an illegal alien for work not performed).

Rejecting both claimed bases for defendants’ position, the Court explained:

Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows discovery of all relevant non-privileged matters. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26. A plaintiff’s immigration status is not normally discoverable. Rengifo v. Erevos Enterprises, Inc., No. 06 CV 4266, 2007 WL 894376 at *1 (S.D.N.Y. March 20, 2007). “[D]iscovery of such information would have an intimidating effect on an employee’s willingness to assert his workplace rights.” Id.

The Court rejects plaintiffs’ first argument that plaintiffs’ immigration status is relevant to their credibility. “While it is true that credibility is always at issue, that does not by itself warrant unlimited inquiry into the subject of immigration status….” Id. at *3. “[T]he opportunity to test the credibility of a party … does not outweigh the chilling effect that disclosure of immigration status has on employees seeking to enforce their rights.” Id. See also E.E.O.C. v. First Wireless Group, Inc., No. 03 CV 4490, 2007 WL 586720 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 20, 2007) (finding immigration status not relevant to credibility); Avila-Blue v. Casa De Cambio Delgado Inc., 236 F.R.D. 190 (S.D.N.Y.2006) (same).

Defendants’ second argument is that plaintiffs’ immigration status may be relevant to damages, relying on the Supreme Court’s holding that the IRCA prevents the NLRB from awarding backpay to an illegal alien for work not performed. Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB, 535 U.S. 137, 122 S.Ct. 1275, 152 L.Ed.2d 271. However, on the issue of damages, “[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). In Flores v. Amigon, 233 F.Supp.2d 462 (E.D.N.Y.2002), the court stated that Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB does not apply to FLSA cases in which workers are seeking pay for work actually performed. The court in Flores stated 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. Flores v. Amigon, 233 F.Supp.2d at 464See also Sandoval v. Rizzuti Farms, Ltd., No. 07 CV 3076, 2009 WL 2058145, at *2 (E.D.Wash. July 15, 2009) (holding that immigration status is not discoverable and Hoffman does not apply). But see Avila-Blue v. Casa De Carnbio Delgado Inc., 236 F.R.D. at 192 (finding that “the issue of immigration status may be relevant to damages insofar as it may limit the availability of certain forms of damages” and allowing the issue to be reopened at a later stage of the proceeding).”

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