After LAAW’s Advocacy Efforts, Federal Court Recognizes Undocumented Worker’s Basic Right to Obtain Relief for Unlawful Employment PracticesJanuary 27, 2020
Ricardo Torres, an undocumented plaintiff that Legal Aid at Work had supported through the filing of a friend-of-the-court (amicus) brief, successfully convinced a federal court that he was entitled to substantial relief from unlawful employment practices despite the fact that he was undocumented.
This win is especially important because, in July 2018, the same trial court judge had declined to even determine whether Mr. Torres’s rights had been violated under Tennessee law. Instead, it held at that time that federal immigration law precluded Mr. Torres, as a formerly undocumented worker, from obtaining any relief because of his immigration status. If taken to its logical extreme, that prior decision would have laid the groundwork for the evisceration of undocumented workers’ rights to any sort of relief in any case regarding employment, regardless of how egregious the legal violations.
After, Mr. Torres appealed this 2018 decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Legal Aid at Work authored an amicus brief in support of Mr. Torres’s appeal and on behalf of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, Latino Memphis, and more than twenty other organizations. In our brief, we argued that the District Court’s 2018 decision should be reversed since federal immigration law does not prevent the court from holding an employer liable for violating an undocumented worker’s rights under state law or from affording relief to that injured worker. Our brief also highlighted how the District Court’s 2018 decision would result in undocumented workers becoming even more vulnerable to employer abuse while also undermining the rights of all workers. The Sixth Circuit reversed the District Court’s 2018 decision and ordered it to first consider whether Precision had violated Tennessee workers’ compensation law and, if so, to only then consider whether federal immigration law precluded relief for Mr. Torres.
The impact of the appellate briefing, including our amicus brief, and the Sixth Circuit’s decision is evident in the District Court’s new order in favor of Mr. Torres. In reversing its ruling, the District Court reaffirmed that undocumented workers have essentially all the same rights as other workers and that federal immigration law does not change that.