After successfully appealing his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, a dairy worker has just dismissed his case -- after securing a $1 million settlement -- against his former employer’s attorney for retaliating against him when he asserted his workplace rights.
“This case is especially important for undocumented workers, who have -- almost without exception -- the same employment rights of all workers,” said Christopher Ho, director of the National Origin & Immigrants’ Rights Program at Legal Aid at Work and one of the attorneys in this case. “It ensures that employers can’t game the system by cheating employees and then turning around and threatening to have the employees deported when they stand up for their basic rights.”
In June 2017, the Ninth Circuit issued a landmark ruling in favor of Jose Arias, a dairy worker who had sued his former employer’s attorney, alleging retaliation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Arias initially sued Angelo Dairy of Acampo, Cal., in San Joaquin County, Cal., in 2006, alleging that the company had failed to pay him overtime, denied him meal and rest breaks and failed to pay him all of the wages he was owed.
Lawyer Anthony Raimondo, who represented Angelo Dairy in that case, reported Arias to U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) in an attempt to remove him from the U.S. shortly before the scheduled trial date in 2011. Represented by Legal Aid at Work and California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), Arias sued Raimondo in the Eastern District Court of California in 2013, alleging that Raimondo, acting as an agent for the dairy, retaliated against Arias for filing the initial lawsuit.
The lawsuit made it all the way to the California Supreme Court, where Arias won an important procedural ruling before the case was sent back to the trial court for further proceedings.
Raimondo tried to get Arias deported at the time and place set for his deposition, stating that Arias “will be attending a deposition next week. If there is an interest in apprehending him, please let me know so that we can make the necessary arrangements.”
Arias subsequently sued Angelo Dairy and Raimondo for this misconduct.
This new lawsuit argued that the attorney’s alleged actions in trying to get his client’s employee deported for asserting his workplace rights would constitute unlawful retaliation under federal employment law.
The Ninth Circuit agreed with Arias, which CRLA said in a statement sets a legal precedent that protects countless workers from retaliation when they assert their workplace rights, even if that retaliation is carried out by someone (like an attorney) who may not technically be the “employer,” for all purposes, but was nevertheless acting in the employer’s interest.
The settlement reached and the most recent dismissal ensure that the Ninth Circuit’s earlier groundbreaking ruling protecting workers from retaliation remains good law, CRLA said.
“This victory has been a long time coming, but I am glad that we were able to hold attorney Raimondo accountable for his misdeeds, and I’m happy that my case will help other workers,” Arias said.
“This case reminds employers and their counsel that using dirty retaliatory tactics, instead of playing by the rules, will not be overlooked,” said CRLA lawyer Blanca Bañuelos, attorney for Arias. “As attorneys, we zealously advocate for our clients, but as the Ninth Circuit reminded us here, there are lines that should not be crossed.”