From JacksonSun.com, Associated Press, 22 Jun 2011.
KNOXVILLE — A federal judge in Knoxville has ruled that Hispanic workers do not have to reveal their immigration status to an employer they are suing to recover back wages.
David Dunaway, an attorney for Caryville-based Baird Tree Company, has argued that illegal immigrants have no right to recover wages they could not legally earn in the first place. The firm is demanding to know which of the 21 workers suing the company are here illegally.
But U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Guyton ruled earlier this month that workers must be paid for the hours they work, regardless of immigration status, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
The ruling is the first of its kind in the Sixth Circuit, but in 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a company had the right to know the legal status of worker Jose Castro, who was suing for wages lost after he was laid off for union organizing.
In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that awarding an illegal immigrant unearned wages ran counter to federal immigration law prohibiting the employment of illegal immigrants.
But Guyton found the current case was different. Where Castro sought “unearned wages,” the former Baird employees are seeking pay for work already performed. Lower courts have largely held that employers cannot deny workers wages already earned simply because they are illegal immigrants, according to the ruling.
“Courts have held that immigration status is not . relevant where a worker seeks wages that were previously earned through actual work,” Guyton wrote. “Thus, the court finds . (Baird workers’) immigration status is not relevant to their claims and, therefore, (the workers) will not be required to (disclose) their immigration status.”
The workers’ attorneys, Arthur Knight III and Patrick Looper, have said that at least some of their clients are illegal immigrants. They insist Baird was aware of their clients’ status when the company hired them. Baird officials insist they were duped by fake documents.
The company is appealing Guyton’s ruling. The case is set for trial in July.