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Undocumented Workers Entitled to Overtime Pay

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion this month affirming that undocumented workers are entitled to relief under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Lamonica, et al. v. Safe Hurricane Shutters, Inc., Case No. 11-15743 (March 6, 2013). The Eleventh Circuit also held that employees who have provided false social security numbers to their employers and had failed to report their earnings to the IRS are still entitled to relief under the FLSA. The opinion of the Court is consistent with public policy and the FLSA because it confirms that workers are generally entitled to their overtime wages. In Lamonica, nine former employees of Safe Hurricane Shutters, Inc. filed suit under the FLSA to recover unpaid overtime wages. One of the employees was an undocumented alien who had applied for work with a fake social security number. The appellants argued on appeal that he should be barred from recovery. The Eleventh Circuit has held that undocumented aliens are entitled to recover unpaid wages under the FLSA. Patel v. Quality Inn S., 846 F.2d 700, 706 (11th Cir. 1988). However, the Supreme Court has held that undocumented workers were not entitled to recovery under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB, 535 U.S. 137 (2002). The Eleventh Circuit held that Hoffman was not on point because it involved an exercise of judicial discretion under the NLRA by a government agency. Instead, the Court followed Quality Inn and affirmed that undocumented employees are entitled to relief under the FLSA. The Court also rejected the appellants’ argument that the employees should be barred from recovery under the doctrine of in pari delicto. The in pari delicto doctrine says that a plaintiff who has engaged in wrongdoing may not recover damages that result from that wrongdoing. The appellants argued that employees who fail to report their earnings to the IRS or who give their employers false social security numbers should be barred from recovering their overtime damages. The Eleventh Circuit held that the employees had not cooperated with their employer to deprive themselves of overtime, and affirmed the award of damages for the employees.