I have been asked on several occasions whether illegal aliens, or unauthorized immigrants, can sue for unpaid wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Employers are typically shocked when I tell them that the FLSA covers all workers, regardless of their immigration status. The Southern District of New York, in a recent ruling, not only reiterated my statement, but took it a step further, in holding that the immigration status of FLSA plaintiffs cannot be entered as evidence at trial.
Last week, the United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) announced that it had obtained a judgment in Solis v. Cindy’s Total Care, Inc. requiring nail salon, Cindy’s Total Care, Inc., to pay $235,920 in unpaid overtime and liquidated damages to thirty two (32) current and former employees. The lawsuit arose out of an investigation by the DOL that found that salon employees worked more than 40 hours in week but were not paid overtime. Instead, the employees were paid a fix daily rate regardless of the number of hours worked.
During the trial, the salon attempted to introduce evidence showing that various plaintiffs were illegal aliens. The court prohibited the introduction of this evidence as irrelevant. In particular, the court noted that the FLSA expressly protects “any individual,” and does not exclude non-U.S. citizens or undocumented workers.
Solis v. Cindy’s Total Care, Inc. highlights the fact that employers can face liability from undocumented workers just as easily at it can from documented workers. Any hope that employees will shy away from bringing a lawsuit based on his or her illegal status is simply not realistic. Rather, the courts and the DOL seemingly provide undocumented workers with a safe harbor to pursue claims for violations of the FLSA. Similarly, as seen in Solis, employers should be wary of relying on any defense that attempts to ruin the credibility of an FLSA plaintiff based upon his or her immigration status.