In the California case of Salas v. Sierra Chemical Co., the court denied an ADA and Workers Comp retaliation claim when the employer discovered after the fact that the Social Security number that Salas had used to secure employment with the company belonged to a man in North Carolina! In making its ruling, the court noted that Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), requires that employers refrain from knowingly hiring or continuing to employ unauthorized aliens.

However, the IRCA also “prohibits aliens from using or attempting to use “any forged, counterfeit, altered, or falsely made document” or “any document lawfully issued to or with respect to a person other than the possessor for purposes of obtaining employment in the United States.”

“These facts, if not genuinely disputed by Salas, would entitle Sierra Chemical to judgment as a matter of law based on the complete defense of the after-acquired-evidence doctrine ... Salas misrepresented a job qualification imposed by the federal government, i.e., possessing a valid Social Security number that does not belong to someone else, such that he was not lawfully qualified for the job. Further, Salas placed Sierra Chemical in the position of submitting a perjurious I-9 form and filing inaccurate returns with the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration. In these circumstances, Salas should have no recourse for an allegedly wrongful failure to hire.”

The court further ruled that the “unclean hands doctrine” barred the plaintiff’s wrongful discharge and contractual claims because “[p]laintiff’s misrepresentations went to the heart of the employment relationship and related directly to her wrongful discharge and contractual claims … In light of the nature of the misrepresentation, the fact that it exposed Sierra Chemical to penalties for submitting false statements to several federal agencies, and the fact that Salas was disqualified from employment by means of governmental requirements, we conclude that Salas’s claims are also barred by the doctrine of unclean hands.”

As a last-ditch effort to continue his case, the plaintiff tried to rely on a California bill passed to provide broader protections to workers under state law. The court dismissed this effort as well, stating that, “the provisions of SB 1818 make explicit California’s preexisting public policy with regard to the irrelevance of immigration status in enforcement of state labor, employment, civil rights, and employee housing laws. Thus, if an employer hires an undocumented worker, the employer will also bear the burden of complying with this state’s wage, hour and Workers Compensation laws.”

“However, while SB 1818 provides that undocumented workers are entitled to [a]ll protections, rights, and remedies available under state law, the enactment does not purport to enlarge the rights of these workers, instead declaring that its provisions are declaratory of existing law. Existing law precluded an employee who misrepresented a job qualification imposed by the federal government, such that he or she was not lawfully qualified for the job, from maintaining a claim for wrongful termination or failure to hire.

This rule applies regardless of immigration status. Moreover, it does not frustrate the purposes of SB 1818 because it allows undocumented immigrants to bring a wide variety of claims against their employers as long as these claims are not tied to the wrongful discharge or failure to hire.

Accordingly, at the time SB 1818 was enacted, an undocumented immigrant possessed no right under state law to maintain a claim for an allegedly discriminatory termination or failure to hire when the claim would otherwise be barred by the after-acquired-evidence or unclean hands doctrines.”

Bottom line for employers: Make sure that you do proper immigration and other background checks and act on any misrepresentations. (We recommend you use for this purpose). Also, have a policy that declares that any misrepresentations in the hiring process will result in termination of employment. Add this policy to your job applications. Remember, nobody has a right to lie their way into a job. Also, bear in mind that this is a “narrow” decision, and there are many circumstances (such as wage payments or Work Comp coverage) in which immigration status is not a factor under California law.
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