APRIL 10, 2007
One state’s Supreme Court has actually overruled a county judge to grant an illegal immigrant special rights to sue a former bankrupt employer for wages and penalties.
The case involves a former cook at a Wichita burrito establishment who had agreed to work for shelter and $6 an hour until business at the struggling restaurant picked up. The place closed after seven months and the illegal immigrant, Cesar Martinez Corral, sued for wages as well as a penalty.
A Sedgwick County judge ruled that Corral wasn’t due the additional penalty from the restaurant’s owner because he was an illegal immigrant. The judge said allowing the additional penalty would encourage illegal immigration and “trivialize” federal immigration laws.
The Kansas Supreme Court, however, unanimously overruled the county judge saying that state wage payment law allows even an illegal worker to recover wages as well as a civil fine against a former employer.
The high court wrote in its decision that an employee’s undocumented status did not render his employment contract unenforceable under the state’s wage law nor was that statute preempted by federal immigration law.
The employer argued that the $6-an-hour employment contract was illegal and unenforceable under the Kansas Wage Payment Act, which defines an employee as any person allowed or permitted to work by an employer. Because the law’s plain language does not specifically exclude illegal aliens, the state Supreme Court said, the agreement is valid.
The justices also concluded that the work agreement was not void or unenforceable by the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act, which states that employers may hire only persons who may legally work in the United States.
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