A federal jury in Massachusetts has found a construction company and its CEO liable in the gross amount of $650,000 after they reported an injured employee to immigration authorities in retaliation for his application for workers’ compensation benefits.
In 2017, José Martin Paz Flores, an employee of Tara Construction, Inc. fell off a ladder while working and broke his leg. According to court papers, after Mr. Paz filed for worker’s compensation benefits, CEO Pedro Pirez came to believe that Mr. Paz was undocumented. Tara Construction’s workers’ compensation insurance had lapsed, and to avoid paying benefits, Mr. Pirez informed immigration authorities about Mr. Paz’s undocumented status, hoping that he would be deported. Ordinarily, a workers’ immigration status is not a bar to recovery of workers’ compensation benefits, and because Tara Construction did not have active workers’ compensation insurance, the company itself was on the hook for Mr. Paz’s medical bills. Mr. Paz also filed a workplace safety complaint against Tara Construction with the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).
During his recovery, Mr. Paz went to a Tara Construction office to pick up an envelope, as instructed by Mr. Pirez, only to be confronted by federal immigration authorities. Mr. Paz was ultimately arrested in the presence of his 2-year-old son. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) brought suit, alleging that Tara Construction and Mr. Pirez violated Section 11(c) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act by retaliating against Mr. Paz.
On June 21, 2022, a jury agreed. The jury further found that Mr. Paz was entitled to $50,000 in emotional distress damages as well as $200,000 in punitive damages from Tara Construction and $400,000 in punitive damages from Mr. Pirez.
This case, Walsh v. Tara Construction, No. 1:19-cv-10369-AK, makes clear that an employer that attempts to exploit a worker’s immigration status in an effort to avoid their own obligations under the law may face hefty repercussions for doing so. It is not yet known whether the defendants will appeal.