The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that a Kansas City cafe’s former owner owes more than $450,000 in back wages, liquidated damages, legal fees and expenses to six undocumented Guatemalan workers. The workers had filed suit claiming that their employer had violated federal wage and hour laws by failing to pay them minimum wage and overtime for their work. In upholding the lower court ruling in the workers’ favor, the appellate court said the employee rights under federal wage labor laws sometimes trump immigration law.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed in June 2010 against the former owner and manager of the Jerusalem Cafe, the plaintiffs said that they worked more than 70 hours a week at the restaurant from 2007 to 2010. Because their undocumented status prevented them from obtaining proper work authorization, they were paid in cash. One worker said that he worked 77 hours per week and received a cash payment of only $300, which amounts to an hourly pay of about $3.90, far below the federal minimum wage.

During the lower court proceedings, the court prohibited the defense from bringing up the plaintiffs’ status as illegal workers. The court said that the workers’ status was irrelevant because they were seeking back wages for work already performed and not seeking to become employed, which would have been unlawful under federal immigration law.

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires workers to be paid no less than the minimum wage for all hours worked in a week and to be paid an overtime rate of time and one-half for any hours worked in excess 40 in a week. In the past, many employers knowingly hired illegal workers at substandard wages because such workers had no legal recourse. The court’s ruling makes it clear that employers who hire undocumented workers must still comply with federal wage and hour laws and that undocumented workers who haven’t received the proper pay may now pursue claims.

Source: Mint Press News, “Court Rules US Labor Laws Apply To All Employees Regardless Of Legal Status“, Katie Rucke, August 03, 2013