The news today brings word of two cases that address an employer's obligation to pay wages and overtime in accordance with the law, but in much different contexts.
First, a federal judge in Idaho recently approved a settlement between a class of plaintiffs and Albertson's LLC, which owns the Supervalu chain of supermarkets. An early report comes from the AP. The amount of the $53 million settlement is eye-popping. About 7,000 employees will receive an average of $7,000 each in unpaid overtime. Tack on an additional $6.5 million in attorneys fees and you have a total settlement package of about $60 million.
The second story comes from Kansas, where an undocumented worker sued to recover wages that he was promised by his employer, Burrito Express. A related story is here and the opinion of the Kansas Supreme Court is here. The short story is this: give an undocumented worker a job and you owe him full compliance with applicable wage and hour laws. You cannot hide behind his immigration status to deny him the benefit of a statute.
This same issue was raised before New Jersey federal district judge Joseph Greenaway in 2005. He came to exactly the same conclusion; in fact, his written opinion was cited by the Kansas court. As Judge Greenaway synthesized the concept:
the persuasive force of the broad language of the [Fair Labor Standards Act], the decisions of other federal courts, and the Labor Department's interpretation of the Act, leads this Court to conclude that Plaintiffs should not be precluded, as a matter of law, from obtaining relief under the FLSA for work already performed, merely by virtue of their undocumented status.
Note that the ruling applies not only to the obligation to pay base wages, but also to statutory penalties that can be imposed against employers for intentional violations of the statute.