Court Denies FLSA Defendants Access to Plaintiffs’ Immigration Status, Tax Returns, or Current Employers

In Rosas v. Alice’s Tea Cup LLC, 14-cv-8788 (SDNY July 6, 2015), the court emphasized that “the protections of the FLSA are available to citizens and undocumented workers alike”, and entered a protective order precluding defendants from seeking discovery of the plaintiffs’ immigration status, tax returns, or current employers.

Plaintiffs asserted that defendants failed to pay them overtime compensation and the “spread of hours” premium for days when plaintiffs worked more than ten hours. In discovery, defendants sought, among other things, documents “verifying their immigration status, work authorization documents, federal and state income tax returns, and documents ‘sufficient to identify the current employer’ for each plaintiff.”

As to plaintiffs’ immigration status, the court rejected defendant’ reliance on Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. National Labor Relations Board, 535 U.S. 137, 148-49 (2002), “in which the Supreme Court disallowed an undocumented immigrant from recovering backpay on a wrongful termination claim under the National Labor Relations Act [] because such a result would “run[] counter to policies underlying [the Immigration Reform and Control Act [].”

The court explained why Hoffman was not controlling here:

However, federal courts have made clear that the protections of the FLSA are available to citizens and undocumented workers alike. … Therefore, in the context of wage and hour violations under both the FLSA and the NYLL, immigration status has generally been protected from discovery. … Thus, courts distinguish between undocumented workers seeking backpay for wages actually earned, as in FLSA wage and hour violations, and those seeking backpay for work not performed, as in a termination in violation of the NLRA. This is because denying undocumented workers the protection of the FLSA would “permit[] abusive exploitation of workers” and create[] an unacceptable economic incentive to hire undocumented workers by permitting employers to underpay them, in violation of the spirit of the IRCA. This distinction was clear before Hoffman and has been reiterated since. … For this reason, the defendants’ contentions regarding the plaintiffs’ NYLL claims fail. In arguing that a worker who violates the IRCA is barred from recovery, the defendants rely only on cases in which plaintiffs sought backpay for work not performed. … These cases are inapplicable where a plaintiff seeks backpay under the NYLL for work actually performed. … Because the plaintiffs here seek payment under the FLSA and the NYLL only for work already performed the IRCA has no bearing on their ability to recover backpay. (Emphasis added.)

It also precluded defendants’ access to plaintiffs’ tax returns and identity of plaintiffs’ current employers.

As to tax returns, the court reasoned:

Here, the defendants have failed to demonstrate either relevance or a compelling need. While the defendants contend that “the returns will further corroborate [the][d]efendants’ position that [the plaintiffs] were paid the amount of compensation required by state and [f]ederal law” (Def. Memo. at 16), the corporate defendants possess relevant data on hours and compensation, and there is no reason to assume that [the] defendants’ records are less reliable than any records maintained by [the plaintiffs]. Indeed, the plaintiffs’ tax returns would only include total income and not details that would be relevant in an FLSA and NYLL suit, such as weekly wages and specific hours worked. Rather, tax information from plaintiffs would serve no obvious purpose other than intimidation.

Share This:
(212) 227-2100