21 February 2006
NEW YORK COURT OF APPEALS HOLDS THAT ILLEGALS CAN SUE FOR PAST DUE WAGES

There is nothing in U.S. immigration law to prevent illgal workers from receiving lost wages without proof that he or she used fraudulent documents to get the job.

In two 5-2 decisions, the Court of Appeals said an award of past and future wages to an undocumented worker does not conflict with federal immigration law.

The case involved an incident 2000, when an undocumented worker from Mexico fell while working at a Manhattan construction site. The worker suffered multiple skull fractures, and filed a personal injury suit agains the owners, claiming that injuries rendered him unableto work. The owners then sued the employer.

The employer sought a dismissal of the claim for lost earnings, saying he shouldn’t receive an award for hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages that he could not legally earn in the United States. They argued that allowing an illegal workers to recover lost wages “condones past transgressions of immigration laws an encourages future violations.”

The Manhattan Supreme Court ruled in favor of the worker, but an appeals court modified the decision, ruling Balbuena should only be entitled to wages he could have earned in Mexico.

The Court of Appeals reinstated the state Supreme Court ruling, saying there was nothing in U.S. immigration law that prevented Balbuena from receiving lost wages since there was no proof he used fraudulent documents to get the job. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 “does not make it a crime to work without documentation,” Judge Victoria Graffeo said in the decision.

In a seperate but related case, the Court of Appeals said an undocumented worker, who came to the United States from Poland in 2000, but remained in this country after his permitted time expired, could also seek lost wages after he was injured in January 2001 while working on Staten Island for, a subcontractor for Cassino Contracting Corp.

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s office backed both plaintiffs, saying that barring lost wage claims would make it more financially attractive to hire illegal aliens, undercut federal policy and provide less of an incentive for companies to comply with state labor laws.

“New York has traditionally protected the rights of undocumented workers and this decision is following in that tradition,” said Michael Altman, Balbuena’s attorney.

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