The 8th Circuit US Court of Appeals sent a strong message to employers in 2013. The Court decided to rule in favor of undocumented immigrants who had been employed by The Jerusalem Cafe in Westport. The Court determined that regardless of the legal status or citizenship of the employees who were hired to work at the popular Kansas City restaurant, the workers were nonetheless owed their money.
Lawyers for the Jerusalem Cafe argued that because the workers they hired were undocumented aliens, they had no right to sue because they do not have labor rights under US law. The Appeals Court disagreed, finding that, in this case, Federal Labor Law trumped Immigration Law in a case that effectively pitted the one against the other.
Decision Sends Message to Employers
The court found that the argument that undocumented aliens were not entitled to their wages under Federal Labor statutes was analogous to arguing that Al Capone could not be charged with tax evasion since his money was made by illegal means. In this instance, a decision in favor of The Jerusalem Cafe could have incentivized US employers to hire undocumented aliens in the hopes of circumventing protections that all those who work on US soil have.
The court ruled that the six workers were owed $450,000 for back pay, penalties, and interest.
Decision Protects Both US Workers and Undocumented Workers
The lawsuit filed against the Jerusalem Cafe alleged that the undocumented workers put in hours in excess of 70 per week and were paid in cash. The lawsuit also alleged that the workers were known by the management of the Jerusalem Cafe and its owner to lack the necessary official work authorizations.
The owner of the restaurant, Adel Azzeh contended that he neither ever hired illegals nor had the capacity to “I-9” his employees. He further contended that the illegals were “volunteering” at the restaurant despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
The decision, which is somewhat controversial given the current political climate toward undocumented immigrants, is believed to be designed to prevent employers from exploiting labor that would otherwise cost American citizens domestic jobs. In addition, it protects undocumented workers from being exploited by unscrupulous employers looking to hire to cheap, under-the-table employees, and then back out of agreements in bad faith.
Ruling Does Not Change Other Points of Immigration Law
While the court found in favor of these undocumented immigrants, this changes very little for either employers or undocumented aliens seeking employment in the US. In both cases, it is still illegal to hire non-US citizens for US employment. If that law is broken, then the illegal immigrants are still entitled to their wages.
Have You Been the Victim of Wage Theft in Kansas City?
Documented or not, you are still entitled to your wages. The Kansas City law offices of HKM have been representing employees in a number of disputes in which their employer has behaved unscrupulously or illegally. If you feel your employer has taken advantage of your good faith, then give us a call at 816.607.4691, and we will talk about getting you the settlement that you deserve.