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E.D.N.Y.: FLSA Defendants Not Entitled To Discovery Of Plaintiffs’ Full Tax Returns; Motion For Protective Order Granted
Melendez v. Primavera Meats, Inc.
Before the court was plaintiffs’ motion for a protective order barring defendants from obtaining their income tax returns. Reasoning that the defendants failed to show a compelling need for same to overcome the plaintiffs’ privacy rights, the court granted the plaintiffs’ motion.
Framing the issue, the court explained:
“Defendants have served a discovery demand seeking production of federal and state income tax returns for various time periods for each plaintiff. Plaintiffs seek a protective order arguing that the tax returns are not relevant and that the requests are improper attempts to ascertain the immigration status of each plaintiff. Defendants respond that they are uninterested in the immigration question, but seek the information to determine the identity of plaintiffs’ employers.”
The court reasoned:
“Although income tax returns are not inherently privileged, courts are typically reluctant to compel their disclosure because of both ‘the private nature of the sensitive information contained therein’ and ‘the public interest in encouraging the filing by taxpayers of complete and accurate returns.’ “ Carmody v. Village of Rockville Centre, 2007 WL 2042807, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. July 13, 2007) (quoting Smith v. Bader, 83 F.R.D. 437, 438 (S.D.N.Y.1979)). In determining whether to compel discovery of tax returns, the court applies a two prong test: “(1) the tax returns must be relevant to the subject matter of the action, and (2) a compelling need must exist because the information is not readily obtainable from a less intrusive source.” Sadofsky v. Fiesta Prods., LLC, 252 F.R.D. 143, 149 (E.D.N.Y.2008) (citations omitted). The modern trend places the burden on the party seeking the discovery to establish both prongs of this test. See Uto v. Job Site Servs., Inc., — F.Supp.2d —-, 2010 WL 3700239, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 20, 2010); see also Carmody, 2007 WL 2043807, at *2.
As the party seeking discovery in this case, the defendants first bear the burden of showing the relevance of the tax returns to the instant action. Defendants argue that the tax returns are relevant since they will identify other employers of the plaintiffs. As defendants apparently claim that they never employed these plaintiffs, they further argue that the tax returns are “relevant as to how much the plaintiffs were paid by these defendants, if they were paid by these defendants at all.” Defs.’ ltr at 1. Plaintiffs respond that the tax returns are irrelevant because even if they reflect the existence of other employers, the returns would not indicate how many hours plaintiffs worked for a particular employer.
Even assuming, arguendo, that the tax returns are relevant, defendants must also establish the second prong of the test-that they have a compelling need for these items because the information is not readily obtainable from a less intrusive source. Sadofsky, 252 F.R.D. at 150 (citations omitted). Defendants offer only a conclusory statement that “there is no other means by which the defendants in this case can establish that someone other than themselves were the plaintiffs’ employer” and a rhetorical question posed to plaintiff’s counsel as to what less intrusive methods might exist. Defendants have singularly failed to establish that the information sought cannot be obtained from a less intrusive source and thus have not met their burden.
As to defendants’ argument regarding the amounts paid by them to the plaintiffs, their own records should reflect this information. Interrogatories, demands for non-tax return documents, and/or inquiries during depositions are discovery devices that apparently have not yet been utilized by defendants. The same devices can be used to obtain discovery regarding any other entities that may have employed the plaintiffs during the relevant time periods. Defendants could, for example, pose interrogatories to determine plaintiffs’ employment history during the relevant time period or question plaintiffs during depositions concerning the number of hours they worked. Carmody, 2007 WL 2042807, at *3 (citing Sabetelli v. Allied Interstate, Inc., 2006 WL 2620385, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 13 2006)). Here, there is no representation from defendants that they have attempted to retrieve the information sought from plaintiff’s through discovery of other documentary evidence such as financial records, or “through the use of any other, less intrusive, discovery device.” Carmody, 2007 WL 2042807, at *3.
For the foregoing reasons, plaintiffs’ motion for a protective order is granted. This ruling may be re-visited upon motion by the defendants, provided they can demonstrate that they have unsuccessfully attempted to obtain the information by other methods.”
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 464. See 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).”
W.D.Wash.: Plaintiffs’ Immigration Status Irrelevant To FLSA/RCW Claims; Affirmative Defense Seeking To Estop Undocumented Immigrants From Recovery Based On Immigration Status Dismissed; No Counterclaim Against A Plaintiff For Indemnity Is Legally Cognizable Either
Bailon v. Seok AM No. 1 Corp.
This case was before the court on plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss and motion for protective order. The issues presented turned largely around the question of whether the immigration status of plaintiffs/employees is at all relevant to the claims those employees filed against their defendant/employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FSLA”) 29 U.S.C. §§ 201–219 and the Washington Minimum Wage Act (“MWA”) RCW 49.48.010 et. seq. Defendants sought to pursue discovery against plaintiffs arguing that their alleged status as illegal aliens prevents them from pursuing claims for unfair employment practices. The Court concluded that the plaintiffs’ immigration status is irrelevant to any valid claim or defense and that public policy prohibits defendants from pursuing such discovery. Additionally, the Court held that an FLSA Plaintiff may not properly be the subject of a counterclaim for indemnity based on actions taken as Defendants’ supervisory employee.
The Court framed the issues before it as follows: (1) Whether alleged undocumented-worker immigration status provides a defense or counterclaim in an FLSA/MWA case for work already performed; (2) Whether FLSA/MWA defendants have a right to seek indemnity or contribution from third parties such as co-workers or joint employers; and (3) Whether FLSA/MWA claims are subject to personal defenses such as waiver, estoppel, unclean hands, laches, “independent intervening conduct of” third party, failure to mitigate damages, “equal[ ] or exceed[ing] fault of plaintiffs,” proximate cause of third party, failure to pay taxes, or a public policy punitive damages defense.
Addressing Plaintiffs’ Motion to Dismiss Defendants’ Affirmative Defenses first, the Court stated, “After carefully reviewing the case law and the facts as alleged by the parties, it appears that plaintiffs’ immigration status is irrelevant to any issue in this case. While the Supreme Court ruled that immigration status bars recover for future wages, see Hofman Plastics Compounds v. NLRB, 535 U.S. 137, 149, 122 S.Ct. 1275, 152 L.Ed.2d 271 (2002), if the wage claim involves damages for past work performed, then the immigration status of the plaintiff is irrelevant. See Rivera v. Nibco, Inc., 364 F.3d 1057, 1063-69 (9th Cir.1004) (discussing Hoffman, Title VII claims for back wages are not barred because of employee’s immigration status).
Furthermore, although there is no Washington case directly on point, Washington courts have consistently construed the MWA in the same manner as the FLSA. See, e.g., Hisle v. Todd Pacific Shipyards Corp., 151 Wash.2d 853, 862, 93 P.3d 108 (2004); Chelan County Deputy Sherifs’ Assoc. v. County of Chelan, 109 Wash.2d 282292-93, 745 P.2d 1 (1987). While not binding, in the absence of state authority to the contrary, the federal precedent is persuasive on this issue. This appears to be consistent with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ policy, as stated by its Director in May of 2002, following the Hoffman Plastics decision. The Washington State Director of Labor & Industries, Gary Moore, issued the following statement:
The 1972 law that revamped Washington’s workers’ compensation system is explicit: All workers must have coverage. Both employers and workers contribute to the insurance fund. The Department of Labor and Industries is responsible for protecting worker safety, ensuring that all workers be paid at least the minimum wage and providing workers with medical care and wage replacement when an injury or an occupational disease prevents them from doing their job. The agency has and will continue to do all that without regard to the worker’s immigration status. Exhibit 2 to Schmitt Decl. (Statement by Gary Moore, Director of the Department of Labor & Industries, May 21, 2002) Doc. # 11.
Therefore, there appear to be no set of facts that would support any of defendants’ allegations that plaintiffs’ claims under the FLSA are barred by their immigration status. Furthermore, defendants have cited no authority for the proposition that the WMA claims should be barred because of plaintiffs’ immigration status either. Accordingly, plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss defendants’ counterclaim alleging that plaintiffs lacked “standing to be lawfully employed” is hereby GRANTED.”
Next the Court turned to the question of whether an FLSA Plaintiff may ever be required to indemnify Defendants for actions committed as a supervisor under Defendants’ employ. Answering this question in the negative, the Court stated, “The Court is unaware of any case in the Ninth Circuit regarding whether an individual supervisor may be held liable for contribution or indemnity to another defendant who may be liable for violations of the FLSA. But several other courts of appeals in other circuits have rejected claims seeking indemnity or contribution under those circumstances. See LeCompte v. Chrysler Credit Corp., 780 F.2d 1260, 1264 (5th Cir.1986) (affirming dismissal of employer’s counterclaim against supervisory personnel for indemnity of plaintiffs’ claims under FLSA, and stating, “No cause of action for indemnity by an employer against its employees who violate the Act appears in the statute, nor in forty years of its existence has the Act been construed to incorporate such a theory”; Lyle v. Food Lion, 954 F.2d 984, 987 (4th Cir.1992) (affirming dismissal of employer’s counterclaim and third-party complaint for indemnity against plaintiff-supervisor for plaintiffs’ FLSA claims); Martin v. Gingerbread House, Inc., 977 F.2d 1405, 1408 (10th Cir.1992) (holding employer’s third-party complaint seeking indemnity from employee for alleged FLSA violations was preempted); Herman v. RSR Sec. Services Ltd., 172 F.3d 132, 144 (2d Cir.1999) (affirming dismissal of corporation chairman’s claims for contribution and indemnification against his co-owner and corporation’s manager and vice president).
The Court is persuaded that it should dismiss defendants’ counterclaim seeking indemnity or contribution in this case. To rule otherwise would frustrate Congress’ purpose in enacting the FLSA, since an employer who believed that any violation of the statute’s overtime or minimum wage provisions could be recovered from its employees would have a diminished incentive to comply with the statute. LeCompte, 780 F.2d at 1264.
Defendants argue they are entitled to assert their contribution and indemnity claim(s) based on state law, citing RCW 49.52.050, 49.52.070, Morgan v. Kingen, 166 Wash.2d 526, 210 P.3d 995 (2009), and Ellerman v. Centerpoint Prepress, 143 Wash.2d 514, 22 P.3d 795 (2001). Defendants’ argument misses the mark. This authority stands for the proposition that plaintiffs may have a claim against an individual supervisor, but does not stand for the proposition that another defendant who may be liable for wage claims has a contribution or indemnity claim against someone similarly situated.
Furthermore, the FLSA’s preclusion of contribution and indemnity claims preempts state law. “Creation of a state-law-based indemnity remedy on behalf of employers would not serve the congressional purpose of creating and maintaining minimum standards of employment throughout the national economy.” LeCompte, 780 F.2d at 1264.
In sum, plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss is GRANTED; defendants’ counterclaim based on contribution or indemnity against Plaintiff Esquivel is DISMISSED.”
Last, the Court granted Plaintiffs’ Motion for a Protective Order regarding discovery sought concerning their immigration status.