Employment Law Blog

Court Protects Wrongfully Terminated Employee Who Could Not Prove Legal Right to Work

May 9, 2017


California has an incredibly diverse population, many of whom were born outside the United States and may not be able to provide the documentation that an employer may demand in order to prove the employee has a legal right to work in the United States.  In a recent decision, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the employee in an age discrimination lawsuit filed by a Spanish-speaking employee against his employer when he was terminated based upon his inability to prove his right to work legally in the United States.  This decision was a win for California undocumented workers whose immigration status may be unclear or who may not have the documentation necessary to prove to their employer’s satisfaction that they can work legally in the U.S.

In the Ninth Circuit’s recent decision in the case of Santillan v. USA Waste of Cal., Gilberto Santillan, a 53-year-old garbage truck driver in Manhattan Beach, was employed for 32 years by USA Waste of California before being terminated by a new route manager at the company.  Santillan was allegedly terminated by the new route manager after he experienced four accidents in a 12-month period. However, Santillan disputed both that he had been in four accidents and also noted that he was one of five older Spanish-speaking employees who were fired or suspended after the new route manager assumed his position.  USA Waste thereafter agreed to reinstate Santillan if he passed a drug test and physical examination, a criminal background check and proved his right to work legally in the United States. When Santillan failed to provide sufficient information for the employer to confirm his right to work legally in the United States, he was fired again.  A lower federal court granted judgment to Santillan’s employer, but the Ninth Circuit reversed, specifically ruling that California public policy considers immigration status to be irrelevant in the enforcement of state labor, employment, civil rights and employee housing laws.

The Court held that the company failed to present a legitimate business reason for its decision to terminate Santillan, because Santillan was exempt from the I-9 requirements since he was already an employee of the company who was being reinstated. Therefore, USA Waste’s requirement that Santillan prove his legal right to work in the United States to be reinstated to his job was deemed illegal under California law.

You can read the complete decision here: http://sos.metnews.com/sos.cgi?0417//15-55238

If you have been discriminated against, contact the experienced and aggressive employee rights attorneys of the Hekmat Law Group at 424-888-4LAW to discuss your potential legal options today.