- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that undocumented aliens working illegally in the United States were not eligible for payments by employers who mistreated them.
The court set aside a National Labor Relations Board award of $66,000 in back pay, plus 13 years' interest, to Jose Castro, a Mexican national who lied to get his job in a California plastics factory and was laid off for trying to organize a union.
The high court by a 5-4 vote said illegal aliens may not collect "such relief" as back pay for jobs they were not entitled to hold, language that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said will affect its policies on back-pay orders and other remedies for victims of sexual, age, racial or other discrimination.
"However broad the [NLRBs] discretion to fashion remedies … it is not so vagrant and unbounded as to authorize this sort of an award," Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said in announcing the decision from the bench.
He also said action by the NLRB, a federal agency, required Hoffman Plastic Compounds Inc. to violate a federal law against knowingly employing illegal aliens and contributed to keeping Mr. Castro in the United States illegally.
Others in the majority were Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Justice Stephen H. Breyer wrote a dissent that contradicted the majority claim that the NLRB action ran counter to immigration policies. He was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
"As all the relevant agencies (including the Department of Justice) have told us, the … backpay order will not interfere with the implementation of immigration policy. Rather, it reasonably helps to deter unlawful activity that both labor laws and immigration laws seek to prevent," said their dissent, which called the company's action "a crude and obvious" violation of labor laws.
"Clearly, today's Supreme Court ruling has an impact on our policy guidance on remedies for undocumented workers, the extent of which we are closely examining," EEOC spokesman David B. Grinberg said last night.
The decision, ending a 13-year legal nightmare for the company, was greeted gleefully at the Paramount, Calif., family-owned business. Its 85 employees produce plastic compounds used by other companies to mold electrical and construction parts.
"Today the Supreme Court restored the proper balance between our country's labor laws and immigration laws," operations manager Roland Hoffman said in a telephone interview.
Mr. Castro used a friend's Texas birth certificate to identify himself as a citizen when he obtained the job.
He was laid off in January 1989 because of organizing work for the United Rubber, Cork, Linoleum and Plastic Workers of America, AFL-CIO. Because the dismissal violated federal labor laws, the NLRB ordered him reinstated and he worked at the company for four more years, Mr. Hoffman said.
The chief justice noted that rehiring a person once the company learned he was undocumented was illegal under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which took effect on July 1, 1987. That law requires all job applicants to prove they are legally eligible to work in the United States, bars applicants from using false papers to prove citizenship and forbids employers from knowingly hiring people in the country illegally.
"The aim of our immigration laws is to preserve jobs for those lawfully in this country. The Supreme Court's decision furthers that goal. We feel vindicated after more than a decade of proceedings with the NLRB," Mr. Hoffman said.
The likely impact on EEOC enforcement was pointed out in an interview with Ann Reesman, general counsel of the Equal Employment Advisory Council, which filed a friend of the court brief in the case.
"Under the employment discrimination laws, the EEOC issued guidance in 1999 using the same reasoning to apply remedies under the discrimination laws which amount to a lot more than just back pay," Miss Reesman said.
Mr. Grinberg said his agency is studying the new ruling for its impact on policies that often include such remedies as back pay, future pay, reinstatement to a job, money damages and attorneys' fees. He said those alternatives generally derive from the National Labor Relations Act, the same law involved in yesterday's decision.
Previous high court rulings protect undocumented workers under other federal labor laws, but that does not entitle them to back pay "for wages that could not lawfully have been earned and for a job obtained in the first instance by a criminal fraud," the court said yesterday.
Mr. Grinberg said EEOC traditionally included undocumented workers among those protected by discrimination laws and in 1999 issued updated reminders to employers that he said were based on current appeals-court rulings.
Asked how frequently illegal aliens become engaged in EEOC complaints, Mr. Grinberg said, "In rare instances. It's not something that's been prevalent."
Attempts to contact several advocacy organizations active in the case were unsuccessful.
Attorneys for groups that were reached, including the American Civil Liberties Union and National Immigration Law Center in Los Angeles, said they were too busy in meetings to discuss the decision.

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