The United States Supreme Court recently declined to hear the case of six undocumented immigrants who sued the owners of Kansas City’s Jerusalem Cafe for violating their rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act. This leaves in place a lower court’s decision awarding the undocumented laborers unpaid wages of $141,864.04 together with the same award of liquidated damages, after determining that the cafe owners willfully failed to pay the employees their wages. An additional $157,000 was awarded by the jury for legal fees and miscellaneous expenses.
The court’s finding established that immigrant workers are entitled to be paid for their work, no matter their immigration status or lack of papers.
The owners of the Jerusalem Café argued that the workers were actually volunteers. The judge in the case dismissed their account as “a fantastic story.” They then countered that because the workers were undocumented immigrants and unauthorized to work in the U.S., they weren’t entitled to be paid wages. In their ruling of July 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected their argument, finding that under the Fair Labor Standards Act, “employee” also includes immigrants without work authorizations.
According to Nebraska attorney Amy Peck, a specialist in immigration law and advisor to employers regarding immigration compliance issues, the court’s decision is “fundamentally about fairness.”
James Paul, who practices employment law in Missouri, states that it would be impossible for an unauthorized immigrant to successfully sue for wrongful termination, as they were ineligible to work in the first place.
If you are a worker who has been wrongfully terminated or subjected to unlawful discrimination or unsafe working conditions while on the job, you have rights and are protected under the law. To understand all of your options, contact a Missouri employment law attorney for legal advice and counsel.
Source: Consumer Eagle, “Undocumented Workers Have the Right to Be Paid” Stephan Westlake, Mar. 24, 2014