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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.