Protecting Employee & Consumer Rights

Employer’s lawyer who reported worker to ICE may be liable for retaliation

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Last year, we wrote about an undocumented immigrant and the employer’s attorney who tried to get him deported. José Arias, the undocumented immigrant, worked as a milker for Angelo Dairy. He had wanted to accept a job offer with another dairy company but his employer threatened to report to federal immigration authorities if he left.

Arias later sued Angelo Dairy in California state court in a class action for failing to provide overtime pay and rest and meal periods. Before the state court trial, the employer’s attorney, Anthony Raimondo, contacted the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) to take Arias into custody at a scheduled deposition and then to deport him. (Apparently, Raimondo had a pattern and practice of contacting ICE when his employer clients were sued by undocumented employees so that ICE could deport these employees.)

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Arias came to know of these plans. Fearing that he would be deported and separated from his family, Arias suffered anxiety and emotional distress. One month before trial, Arias entered into a settlement with the employer due in large part to the threat of deportation.

Arias later sued his former employers’ attorney (Raimondo), in federal court for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (“FLSA”) prohibition on retaliation. The attorney asked the court that the case against him be dismissed because he was never Arias’ employer. The trial court agreed with Raimondo and dismissed the case against him. Arias appealed.

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The Court of Appeal had to answer this question: Can an employer’s attorney be held liable for retaliating against his client’s employee because the employee sued his client for violations of workplace laws?

Under the FLSA, it is unlawful for any person to discharge or discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint related to their labor rights. The FLSA also defines “employer” to include “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer.”

The appellate court concluded that the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision applies to “any person,” which would include a “legal representative.” Therefore, the attorney, Raimondo, may become liable for economic damages in this retaliation claim.

Aside from federal law, California also makes it unlawful for an employer to engage in unfair immigration-related practices against any employee in order to retaliate against the employee. “Unfair immigration-related practice” means any conduct undertaken for the retaliatoryreasons such as threatening to file or filing a false police report, or threatening to contact or contacting immigration authorities, among others.

California specifically prohibits employers’attorneysfrom reporting or threatening to report suspected immigration status of employees or their witnesses (or family members) simply becausethese persons exercised their employment rights.

In Arias’ case, Raimondo was eventually compelled to settle his case for $1 million, thus avoiding trial.

The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.comor our Facebook page Joe Sayas Law. [C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. is an experienced trial attorney who has successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, is the recipient of PABA’s Community Champion Award, and is aPresidential Awardee for Outstanding FilipinoOverseas in 2018.]

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TAGS: Atty. C. Joe Sayas Jr., California labor law, employee rights, Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), retaliation, undocumented workers
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