Stiffing illegals still draws penalties, Supreme Court rules

Legal News Line Mar. 27, 2007, 9:12am

Justice Lawton Nuss

Undocumented workers whose employers withhold their wages are covered by the same state law as legal employees, the Kansas Supreme Court has ruled. In their decision in Coma Corp. vs. Kansas Dept. Labor (KDOL) and Cesar Martine Corral (no. 95537) the Supreme Court affirmed a KDOL decision that Coma owed Corral unpaid wages plus interest and a civil penalty. It also reversed a District Court's ruling that, because Corral was an undocumented worker over the contested employment period, he was entitled to only minimum wage and no additional payments. Corral had been promised $6 per hour at a Mexican take-out but was paid much less, he claimed. KDOL originally awarded Corral unpaid wages, interest and civil penalty totalling $7,657 after finding in his favor under the Kansas Wage Payment Act. The Supreme Court agreed with the KDOL's decision, finding that the Act was clear and unambiguous on the obligations faced by Kansas employers in paying wages. "Coma willfully failed to pay its employee his earned wages; Coma is therefore properly penalized under the plain language of the statute," wrote Justice Lawton Nuss in the Supreme Court's unanimous opinion. "The statute...does not carve out any 'illegal alien' exception," Nuss pointed out. Such an exception would "directly contravene the public policy of...Kansas." The district court judge had earlier ruled that awarding Corral the full penalties would "trivialize" federal immigration laws. The original ruling in the case by the KDOL will now stand.

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