On Monday, June 6, 2016, Joshua Newville secured a victory at the Minnesota Court of Appeals on behalf of an injured, undocumented worker who was fired after pursuing workers’ compensation benefits.
The case is a win for undocumented workers, as the Defendant argued that such workers are not entitled to the protections of Minnesota anti-reprisal laws.
The decision holds:
1. Undocumented workers are entitled to the protections of Minn. Stat. 176.82, subd. 1. The defendant employer argued that such a cause of action is preempted by the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act.
2. Putting an undocumented employee on an indefinite, unpaid leave constitutes an adverse employment action under the Minnesota Workers Compensation Act. The defendant employer argued that the Act defines adverse action only to include termination.
Plaintiff A. Sanchez labored for Dahlke Trailer Sales, Inc. for almost nine years. Sanchez contends that from 2005 until 2013, Dahlke knowingly employed him as an undocumented worker. In addition to Dahlke receiving notice from the federal government that Sanchez’s Social Security number was invalid, Sanchez alleges that over his years of employment, Dahlke’s owners and managers directly asked him his immigration status, conversed with him about it, joked about it, and offered a stream of political commentary about him and immigration policy in general. Sanchez says that he was honest with Dahlke about his immigration status early on during his career with the company.
Nevertheless, Dahlke continued to employ Sanchez until he was severely injured on the job (he put a sandblaster through his leg and was hospitalized). He says he then pursued workers’ compensation benefits and Dahlke responded by telling him that they could no longer help him and that their bridge with him had been cut. Dahlke then removed Sanchez from his position, citing federal law that prohibits employers from knowingly employing undocumented workers.
On Sanchez’s behalf, Newville brought suit for violation of Minnesota Statute § 176.82, which prohibits employers from interfering with an employee’s pursuit of workers’ compensation benefits and from retaliating against employees by terminating them. An Anoka County District Court Judge later threw out Sanchez’s case, arguing that the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act preempted his claim, and that Sanchez was only put on leave, not terminated. Sanchez then appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Sanchez’s appeal was about whether Minnesota law permits an employer—having enjoyed the fruits of an employee’s labor for many years without any objection to that employee’s undocumented immigration status—to then use that status to claim exemption from anti-retaliation and anti-discrimination laws.
We fight on behalf of all workers who have been treated unfairly by their employers. Employers who attempt to unfairly turn a profit on the backs of undocumented workers harm our state and nation. We are pleased that justice prevailed in this appeal.
Joshua Newville is a Minnesota employment lawyer, civil rights attorney, and mediator. Josh litigates and advises on such matters as wrongful termination, whistleblowers, discrimination, police misconduct, and more. He offers paid legal consultations and free online case reviews regarding employment law and civil rights.