In an ongoing wage violations lawsuit, attorneys for Alice’s Tea Cup Restaurant in New York City tried and failed to use workers’ immigration status as evidence against them.
Employees at Alice’s Tea Cup, a Manhattan café chain, are suing for unpaid overtime and “spread of hours” pay. Attorneys for Alice’s Tea Cup demanded that the employees submit proof of their immigration status, employment authorization documents, and income tax returns. The attorneys claimed that these documents were relevant because if the employees had submitted false employment authorization documents then they were prohibited from pursuing a claim for unpaid wages.
The workers moved for a protective order, arguing that the requests were irrelevant to determine their claims under the law. U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. Francis sided with the workers and prohibited disclosure of their immigration status or financial records because it is irrelevant to their claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the New York Labor Law (NYLL). The Court stated, “Federal courts have made clear that the protections of the FLSA are available to citizens and undocumented workers alike” and that “denying undocumented workers protection under the wage laws would ‘permit abusive exploitation of workers’ and “create an unacceptable economic incentive to hire undocumented workers by permitted employers to underpay them.”
The Court also determined that the workers did not have to disclose their income tax returns because although the tax returns include total income paid it would not include relevant details such as weekly wages or hours worked. Moreover, defendants would possess such relevant data thereby negating the need for plaintiffs to produce their returns.