March 1, 2013

Supreme Court wades into immigration law again

In Salas v. Sierra Chemical, the Supreme Court granted review to decide state employment law issues. The court’s website states the issue: Did the trial court err in dismissing plaintiff’s claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (Gov. Code, section 12900 et seq.) on grounds of after-acquired evidence and unclean hands, based on plaintiff’s use of false documentation to obtain employment in the first instance? Did Senate Bill No. 1818 (2001-2002 Reg. Session) preclude application of those doctrines in this case? (See Civ. Code, section 3339; Gov. Code, section 7285; Health & Saf. Code, section 24000; Lab. Code, section 1171.5.)

Well, now the court is making a federal case out of it, at least in part.

At its weekly conference, the court on Wednesday requested supplemental briefing on the issue: Does federal immigration law preempt state law and thereby preclude an undocumented worker from obtaining, as a remedy for a violation of “state labor and employment laws” (Lab. Code, section 1171.5; Civ. Code, section 3339; Gov. Code, section 7285; Health & Saf. Code, section 24000), an award of compensatory remedies, including backpay? (See Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB (2002) 535 U.S. 137.)

The referenced state law — Senate Bill 1818 — provides, as described in the Legislative Counsel’s digest, “that all protections, rights, and remedies available under state law, except as prohibited by federal law, are available to individuals regardless of immigration status who have applied for employment, or who are or who have been employed, in this state” and that, “for the purposes of enforcing state labor, employment, civil rights, and employee housing laws, a person’s immigration status is irrelevant to the issue of liability and no inquiry shall be permitted into a person’s immigration status except when necessary to comply with federal immigration law.”

This isn’t the only pending case in which the court has specifically asked for briefing on federal immigration law. As we’ve noted, in In re Garcia, the court requested briefing on whether federal immigration law precludes the court from granting a California law license to an undocumented law school graduate and bar exam passer.

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