Eleventh Circuit Issues Sweeping Opinion Clarifying FLSA Regarding: Undocumented Immigrants

Kevin D. Fitzpatrick, Jr. : March 18, 2013 10:30 am

On March 6, 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion in the case of Lamonica, et al v. Safe Hurricane Shutters, Inc., et al, Case 11-15743.  This was an action brought by nine plaintiffs who installed hurricane shutters for the defendant who claimed that the defendants had failed to pay them at one and one half times their regular rate for work in excess of forty hours a week.  The case had been tried before a jury, resulting in an award of damages to the plaintiffs.  The defendants then appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.

Defendants first argued that the plaintiffs should be barred from recovering overtime pay as a matter of law on the basis of a legal doctrine known as in pari delicto.  This doctrine generally bars recovery to a plaintiff who had participated in the wrongdoing that is the basis of the lawsuit.  Defendants argued that the plaintiffs had failed to report their income to the Internal Revenue Service; had used false social security numbers and were, in fact, undocumented immigrants who were not authorized to work in the USA.

The Eleventh Circuit was not impressed.  It affirmed its prior holding in Patel v. Quality Inn S., 846 F.2d 700 (11th Cir. 1988) wherein it found that undocumented aliens were “employees” who may recover unpaid wages under the FLSA.  The court further found that the in pari delicto argument was unpersuasive because none of the plaintiffs had cooperated with the defendants in violating the FLSA.  The court found that tax reporting and false social security number issues did not have a sufficient causal relationship with defendants’ FLSA violations.

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