California Supreme Court Upholds Rights and Remedies for Immigrant Workers

In Salas V. Sierra Chemical Co., the California Supreme Court upheld the protections in Senate Bill No. 1818 which makes all state law remedies available to all individuals regardless of immigration status.  See Cal. Civ. Code § 3339, Cal. Gov’t Code § 7285, Cal. Health & Safety Code § 24000 and Cal. Lab. Code § 1171.5.

The plaintiff in Salas suffered a workplace injury and when he was not returned to work, he filed a lawsuit against his employer for disability discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).  In defending the lawsuit, the employer argued that because the plaintiff had used a false social security number during his employment, he was barred (by the doctrine of unclean hands) from bringing a lawsuit under the FEHA.

The California Supreme Court held that undocumented workers have most of the same legal rights as documented workers. The only difference is that if an undocumented worker wins a case enforcing their rights, they cannot collect back pay from the date the employer discovered they were undocumented. But up to that time, the undocumented worker gets the same back pay as the documented worker. The Court's reason is that the US Supreme Court has already said that since an undocumented worker cannot legally work in the USA, the Court cannot give him/her back pay for a period when the employer knew they were undocumented and thus could not be legally employed.

The Court also held that the doctrines of after-acquired evidence and unclean hands (defenses that an employer can raise when it finds evidence that a worker engaged in some workplace misconduct) are not complete defenses to a worker’s claims under the FEHA, although these defenses could affect the scope of relief available to workers.

By Monica Guizar | July 8, 2014

Legal Developments