Thursday, October 18, 2012

Discovery of Immigration-Status Denied in FLSA Case

MossFriend of the blog, Scott Moss (Colorado), brings to our attention an FLSA unpaid wages case in which he is co-counsel for plaintiff, a restaurant cook.

He just received a decision denying discovery for his plaintiff’s immigration status: Reyes v Snowcap Creamery, Inc., -- F. Supp. 2d ---, 2012 WL 4888476 (D. Colorado Oct. 15, 2012).

Scott provides some background on the case and his own particular interest in the subject matter of the case:

To try to prove undocumented immigrant status, and to fish for potentially relevant documents, the employer sought, and had been granted by the Magistrate Judge, discovery of not only plaintiff’s immigration status, but plaintiff’s immigration attorney’s files and ICE files; plaintiff actually was to sign releases allowing production of the latter two files. We appealed the Magistrate Judge’s ruling, and the District Judge reversed in full, denying any immigration status discovery with very broad language that “a plaintiff's immigration status is irrelevant in an FLSA action” and that even though there may have been some relevance to some of the discovery (e.g., immigration documents with job descriptions pertinent to whether plaintiff was FLSA-exempt), immigration discovery still should be denied “because of the in terrorem effect that discovery into such issues would have on litigants.”

This issue has been an old passion of mine ever since the Supreme Court in 2002 held in Hoffman Plastic Compounds that undocumented immigration status precludes certain post-termination pay continuation damages; at the time, my plaintiff-side employment law firm was terrified that the ruling would kill our FLSA practice, because so many wage claims are by immigrants. I had to litigate a motion on that issue almost immediately after Hoffman, and I got the first reported decision in the country holding that even if Hoffman makes immigration status relevant to post-termination pay continuation damages, immigration status remains irrelevant, and too prejudicial to be allowed in discovery, in FLSA unpaid wage cases: Liu v. Donna Karan Int'l, Inc., 207 F. Supp. 2d 191 (S.D.N.Y 2002). Liu is cited in our new decision, which is now the first decision District of Colorado holding the same – that in FLSA cases, immigration status is irrelevant and too prejudicial to be allowed in discovery.

This is a very interesting and important FLSA case and we appreciate Scott sharing his litigation experience in this case with us.


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