Mass judge rules immigration status irrelevant to wage claims
March 28, 2011 - Federal Judge George A. O’Toole issued an order stating the immigration status of two plaintiffs is not relevant to their unpaid wage claims. Two plaintiffs, Jin-Ming Lin and Chi-Wai Chao, filed a class action lawsuit seeking unpaid wages and damages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and seeking triple damages for violations of Massachusetts’ laws.
The plaintiffs worked for a Chinatown Restaurant in 2008 and 2009, as driver or front desk person. Plaintiffs often worked 60-80 hours per week but they were not paid for all of the hours – thus the underpayment making their actual paid wage beneath Massachusetts’ minimum wage. The FLSA also requires that the employees get time and one-half for work done in excess of 40 hours per week.
The question in the Lin case, according to Judge O’Toole, is whether or not the 2002 U.S. Supreme court ruling in Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. vs National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) impacts the rights of illegal aliens to recover unpaid wages under the FLSA.
In the Hoffman case, it was ruled that the NLRB did not have the discretion to award back wages to illegal aliens, even though the termination of the illegal aliens’ employment was deemed to be in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.
Judge O’Toole acknowledges three other cases around the country have considered this same issue and they ruled illegal aliens have a right to recover back wages under the FLSA despite the Hoffman ruling.
Analysis noted by Judge O’Toole regarding the Hoffman ruling and the current case includes:
The Hoffman case concerned awards for work not yet done, and the current case concerned work already performed.
The FLSA does note illegal aliens are indeed employees.
The U.S. Department of Labor has shown that illegal aliens can recover wages under the laws of the FLSA.
Recovery under FLSA is allowed per federal immigration policy.
The growing consensus leans towards allowing illegal aliens to recover unpaid wages for work performed.
While the other courts’ reached the same conclusion, O’Toole found their reasoning insufficient. He states “awards for unpaid wages under FLSA are not discretionary, but rather a matter of statutory entitlement when the necessary factual predicate has been established.” This is in addition to acknowledging that the NLRB has authority and discretion to award back pay only under certain circumstances. Courts, according to O’Toole, do not have discretion to deny awarding FLSA damages once proved. O'Toole wrote "If a plaintiff makes out an FLSA case, he is entitled to an FLSA remedy, any obstruction or interference with immigration policy notwithstanding."
~ R. Radliff
SOURCE: "Plaintiffs' immigration status 'irrelevant' to their wage claims, Mass. judge rules"
by Sheri Qualters, The National Law Journal, March 28, 2011