On July 29, 2013, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rendered a decision on how the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is applied to undocumented workers. The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) makes it unlawful for employers to hire aliens who are not legally authorized to work in the United States. The FLSA requires, among other things, employers to pay employees a minimum hourly wage plus overtime for hours worked in excess of 40 hours.
Between 2007 and 2010, the Jerusalem Café in Kansas City employed Elmer Lucas and five other workers who were authorized to work in the United States under the IRCA. During that period, most of the workers were paid less than the minimum wage, and they did not receive overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 per workweek as required by the FLSA. Instead, the workers were paid fixed weekly sums in cash regardless of the number of hours they worked. The employees were discharged because they refused to falsify employment applications to make it appear that they had not worked for the café before March 2010. The six workers filed a suit against the Jerusalem Cafe and its owners alleging willful failure to pay minimum and overtime wages in violation of the FLSA.
In this case, the question was whether unauthorized aliens who work in the United States should be considered employees under the FLSA and therefore be entitled to the rights and protections guaranteed by the Act despite the fact that they are not legally authorized to work. In this case, the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers the states of Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) ruled that unauthorized workers are employees under the FLSA and are therefore entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay just like other employees who are covered by the Act. The 8th Circuit held that aliens can recover unpaid wages under the FLSA regardless of whether they are authorized to work.
In order to reach this conclusion, the Court drew on an analogy to the unlawful practices of a lawful immigrant, Al Capone, stating:
“employers who unlawfully hire unauthorized aliens must otherwise comply with federal employment laws. The employer’s argument to the contrary rests on a legal theory as flawed today as it was in 1931 when jurors convicted Al Capone of failing to pay taxes on illicit income.” The Court added: “breaking one law does not give license to ignore other generally applicable laws.”
The jury found in the workers’ favor and awarded almost $142,000 in actual damages for unpaid FLSA wages, the same amount in liquidated damages, attorneys’ fees and costs.
If you are a documented or undocumented worker and you believe you have a labor claim under any of these statutes, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.