Immigrant Workers Protected Against Retaliation Under Fair Labor Standards Act

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ground-breaking decision in the case of Jose Arnulfo-Arias v. Anthony Raimondo, Case No. 15-16120.  The court found an employer’s attorney liable for retaliation against an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) when the attorney conspired with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) to detain and deport the worker after the worker sued his employer for violations of workplace laws.

The Plaintiff, Jose Arnulfo Arias, was a milker for Defendant Angelo Dairy hired in 1995.  In 2006, Arias sued Angelo Dairy in California state court on behalf of himself and other employees, for a number of workplace violations, including failure to provide overtime pay and rest and meal periods.  The case was set for trial on August 15, 2011.

In June of 2011, the Attorney for Angelos Dairy, Anthony Raimondo, conspired with ICE to detain Arias at a scheduled deposition and deport him from the U.S.  Raimondo also planned to block Arias’ attorney from representing him.  Raimondo had several interactions with ICE agents.

The district court dismissed Arias’ retaliation claim under FLSA, in part, in reliance on precedent about whether a person is an “employer” under FLSA (i.e. provisions that pertained specifically to the wage and hour requirements).  Raimondo’s argument was that he could not be liable under FLSA because he was never Arias’ “employer.”

The Ninth Circuit reversed and instead found that Attorney Raimondo’s actions were considered retaliation under FLSA.  The fact that Raimondo was never Arias’ employer did not persuade the court.

Instead, the court looked to Section 215(a)(3) of FLSA, which makes it is unlawful “for any person … to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint… under or related to this chapter.”  The court also looked at the definition of an “employer” under Section 203(d) of FLSA, which includes “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee.”

The Ninth Circuit found that action by an attorney for the employer could be retaliation under the FLSA, specifically holding that Raimondo’s actions in contacting ICE to detain and deport Arias violated FLSA.

The court concluded by stating that FLSA is “remedial and humanitarian in purpose.  We are not here dealing with mere chattels or articles of trade but the rights of those who toil, or those who sacrifice a full measure of their freedom and talents to the use and profit of others…”

In addition to this case interpreting federal labor law, California laws are some of the most protective against the abusive and egregious behavior exhibited by Raimondo.  In fact, the California Bar can suspend, disbar or discipline an attorney for reporting or threatening to report the suspected immigration status of a witness or party to a civil or administrative action, or his or her family member, to a federal, state, or local agency because the witness or party exercises or has exercised a right related to his or her employment, broadly interpreted.  (Calif. Bus. & Prof. Code § 6103.7.)  There are also a number of other protections we remind advocates to use and enforce, such as Labor Code Section 1019, Unfair Immigration-Related Practices; Labor Code Section 1024.6, Protecting against retaliation for updating personal information; Labor Code Section 244, Exhaustion of remedies & Reports to Immigration, and Labor Code sections 98.6 and1102.5.

This case adds to the legal precedent Unions, workers, and advocates can use to resist abusive employers and their agents, including their lawyers, who retaliate against immigrant workers.

By Tiffany Crain Altamirano | August 2, 2017

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