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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Click Ulin v. Lovell’s Antique Gallery to read the entire opinion.
S.D.N.Y.: Undocumented Immigrant FLSA Plaintiffs Failed To Plead Civil RICO Claim Based On Defendants’ Wage Violations
Nichols v. Mahoney
In this case, the Plaintiffs pled Civil RICO in addition to typical FLSA violations, and other relatively unique claims under the Sherman Act and the Donnelly Act. Specifically, the Plaintiffs claimed that the Defendants regularly paid substandard wages, and the practice resulted from their employment of undocumented immigrants in violation of federal laws. In dismissing the portion of Plaintiffs’ claims pertaining to Civil RICO, the Court found that the Plaintiffs had not properly alleged proximate cause of Defendants’ pattern of criminal activity and their damages due to wage violations.
“In evaluating whether the plaintiffs have adequately alleged proximate cause in this case, the Court focuses on the proposed amended complaint, because it adequately alleges the commission of a pattern of racketeering activity, to wit: two or more violations of the harboring statute. The question to be answered is whether the plaintiffs’ injury-the depression of their wages-was proximately cause by defendants’ hiding their illegal alien employees from the Government. The answer to that question is no.
There is no direct relationship between the harboring of illegal aliens and the plaintiffs’ depressed wages. Indeed, plaintiffs do not so allege. Rather, they contend that they were paid below-market wages because the defendants knowingly hired undocumented workers, who would and did work for wages that were lower than the prevailing rate. That act-the knowing hiring of illegal aliens-is specifically alleged to be the proximate cause of plaintiffs’ lower wages. (Am.Compl.¶¶ 45, 94, 109, 119, 128, 132.) As explained above, that act is not a RICO predicate act.
If plaintiffs had managed to plead that defendants knowingly hired 10 or more illegal aliens who defendants knew had been “brought into” the country-that is, if plaintiffs had successfully pled a violation of section 274(a)(3), which is a RICO predicate act-their proposed amended complaint might well plead proximate cause, as the Second Circuit found in analogous circumstances in Commercial Cleaning, 271 F.3d at 381-385. Of course, Commercial Cleaning is a pre-Anza case, so if plaintiffs had managed to plead that defendants knew some of their illegal employees had been “brought into” the country by others, this Court would have to consider whether Commercial Cleaning remains good law on this point. But plaintiffs’ failure to allege the requisite specific facts moots any such inquiry.
Because hiring illegal aliens without knowing they were “brought in” is not racketeering activity, plaintiffs’ allegation that hiring illegal aliens depressed wages-a correlation long recognized by courts, including the Supreme Court, see, e.g., DeCanas v. Bica, 424 U.S. 351, 356-357 (1976)-does not satisfy the requirement that plaintiffs plead injury caused by a pattern of racketeering activity. To clear that hurdle, plaintiffs need to plead facts tending to show that defendants’ harboring of illegal aliens proximately caused the drop in their wages. This they have not done.
Reading the plaintiffs’ proposed amended complaint in the most favorable light, they do allege that the defendants were able to keep their “scheme” to employ illegal aliens going by hiding the aliens from the Government-by “harboring” them. (See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 25-45, 64, 67-73, 76.) But the fact that harboring may have allowed the alleged injury to persist for a longer period does not mean that harboring caused the injury.
Furthermore, that the only allegation in the amended complaint connecting harboring and wages concerns the duration of the harm rather than its cause underscores another critical point. “The key reasons for requiring direct causation include avoiding unworkable difficulties in ascertaining what amount of the plaintiff’s injury was caused by the defendant’s wrongful action as opposed to other external factors.” First Nationwide Bank v. Gelt Funding Corp., 27 F.3d 763, 770 (2d Cir.1994). Any effort to quantify how much of plaintiffs’ depressed wages was caused by the harboring of illegal aliens, as opposed to hiring them or some other factor at work in the marketplace, would be even more inherently speculative than the proceeding anticipated (and condemned) by the Supreme Court in Anza.
Finally, because harboring is a direct affront to the Government, there is no need for private attorneys general like plaintiffs to bring damages actions in order to redress it. Just as the State of New York could be expected to pursue a corporation that was failing to pay state income tax, the Government can be expected to vindicate the laws against hiding aliens from the Government. This is not to say that proximate cause will be lacking every time a governmental entity has an interest in vindicating its laws. Indeed, any such result would effectively wipe the civil RICO statute off the books, since every RICO violation is predicated on a violation of some federal criminal statute-a violation that the United States, a “victim” whenever its laws are violated, has an incentive to remedy. However, in this case, where there is no direct or obvious connection between the racketeering activity alleged (harboring) and the harm to the plaintiffs (depressed wages), the fact that the direct victim of the harboring has the incentive to redress the harm (by capturing and deporting the aliens and by prosecuting the harboring employer) fatally undermines any contention that these plaintiffs have suffered injury by virtue of the alleged racketeering activity.
The amended complaint thus fails to state a claim under 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c). Because plaintiffs fails to plead any RICO violation, they also fail to plead any violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d), the RICO conspiracy statute. All three RICO counts-Counts I, II and III-are dismissed.”
Trejos v. Edita’s Bar and Restaurant, Inc.
In this case, the Defendant’s moved to compel Plaintiffs to answer questions at deposition regarding their immigration status. The primary issue substantively before the Court was whether Plaintiffs were employees entitled to FLSA coverage or independent contactors, and therefore, outside of the FLSA’s coverage. Initially, the Court granted Defendant’s Motion to Compel this testimony. On Plaintiffs’ Motion for Reconsideration however, the Court reversed itself, vacating its prior Order and, following well-settled law found this information is undiscoverable and irrelevant stating:
“Plaintiffs argue that the questions are not relevant to the issue of whether plaintiffs were employees of defendants for purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”), and that the questions should be precluded in any event because of their in terrorem effect. Defendants respond that the information is necessary for a determination of whether certain plaintiffs were defendants’ employees or, as defendants allege, independent contractors under the FLSA.
The information-whether plaintiffs had green cards or working papers-is not relevant to the question of whether plaintiffs are employees under the FLSA. First, as even defendants acknowledge in their opposition to plaintiffs’ motion, federal courts have consistently recognized that even undocumented workers are entitled to the FLSA’s protections. See, e.g., Flores v. Amignon, 233 F.Supp.2d 462, 463 (E.D.N.Y.2002) (collecting cases). Second, in a case where, as here, defendants contend that plaintiffs were independent contractors and not employees subject to the FLSA, the Second Circuit applied an “economic reality” test, which considers the following factors:
(1) the degree of control exercised by the employer over the workers, (2) the workers’ opportunity for profit or loss and their investment in the business, (3) the degree of skill and independent initiative required to perform the work, (4) the permanence or duration of the working relationship, and (5) the extent to which the work is an integral part of the employer’s business.
Brock v. Superior Care, Inc., 840 F.2d 1054, 1058-59 (2d Cir.1988); see also Schwind v. EW & Assocs., Inc., 357 F.Supp.2d 691, 700-02 (S.D.N.Y.2005) (applying Brock and concluding that plaintiff was an employee, not an independent contractor); Lee v. ABC Carpet & Home, 186 F.Supp.2d 447, 453-57 (S.D.N.Y.2002) (applying the five factors outlined in Brock to determine whether a worker was an employee or an independent contractor under the FLSA); McGuiggan v. CPC Int’l, Inc., 84 F.Supp.2d 470, 479 (S.D.N.Y.2000). Although these factors are not exclusive, and a court must consider the totality of the circumstances, Brock, 840 F.2d at 1059, whether or not plaintiffs had green cards or working papers is simply not relevant when applying the Brock test to determine whether plaintiffs are employees under the FLSA. Indeed, defendants are unable to cite a single case in which a court held that a plaintiff’s immigration status, or whether the plaintiff possessed a green card or working papers, was relevant to the viability of the plaintiff’s FLSA claim.
Although defendants argue in their opposition that the discovery they seek will establish that plaintiffs sought to avoid employee status, the subjective intent of the parties in forming the employment relationship has little to no significance in determining whether a plaintiff is an independent contractor or employee. Schwind, 357 F.Supp.2d at 702 (finding that plaintiff was an employee for purposes of the FLSA, even though both parties treated plaintiff as an independent contractor). See also Tony & Susan Alamo Found. v. Sec’y of Labor, 471 U.S. 290, 302, 105 S.Ct. 1953, 1962 (1985) (concluding that workers may be deemed employees under the FLSA, even though the workers considered themselves volunteers); Brock, 840 F.2d at 1059 (noting that an “employer’s self-serving label of workers as independent contractors is not controlling”). One district court explicitly rejected an argument similar to the one defendants make here, noting that “neither the subjective intent of the worker in forming the employment relationship nor the label affixed by the putative employer controls the question whether a worker is an employee under the FLSA.” Montoya v. S. C.C.P. Painting Contractors, Inc., 589 F.Supp.2d 569, 577-78 (D.Md.2008) (citing Tony & Susan Alamo Found., 471 U.S. 290, 105 S.Ct.1953). While defendants correctly point out that Montoya involved a motion for summary judgment and not a discovery motion, both Flores and Liu v. Donna Karan Int’l, Inc., 207 F.Supp.2d 191, 192 (S.D.N.Y.2002), held that discovery of plaintiff’s immigration status should be precluded. I find these authorities persuasive and conclude that defendants’ contention of their need for the information is without merit.”
Recognizing the intimating effect such disclosures could and do have on FLSA Plaintiffs, the Court further noted: “even if the information sought were somehow relevant, the in terrorem effect of the questions defendants seek to press outweighs the need for disclosure. See Flores, 233 F.Supp.2d at 464-65; Liu, 207 F.Supp.2d at 192-93. Indeed, despite my efforts to permit only narrow discovery of whether plaintiffs had green cards or working papers, defendants have attempted to obtain information concerning plaintiffs’ immigration status through other questions. See Pl. Letter dated Feb. 17, 2009 p. 4 (citing the deposition of plaintiff Diana Trejos at 56).
For these reasons, plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration is granted. Defendants are precluded from asking plaintiffs whether they had green cards or working papers at all future depositions.”