SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit has reversed a district court’s decision on a Fair Labor Standards Act case (FLSA).
The appellate court decided in favor of plaintiff and appellant Jose Arnulfo Arias, who had accused his employer’s attorney, Anthony Raimondo, of retaliating against Arias for suing his employer. A district court had determined that an employer’s attorney could not be sued for retaliating against a client’s employee, but the appellate judges disagreed in a decision filed on June 22.
Arias worked for Angelo Dairy, which is owned by Luis, Maria and Joe Angelo ("the Angelos"), as an undocumented employee. When he approached his employer in 1997 to let them know he had been offered a position with another dairy, Arias was told that if he left Angelo Dairy the company would report the new dairy to immigration authorities for hiring undocumented workers. As a result, Arias passed on the opportunity and remained at Angelo Dairy.
Nine years later, in 2006, Arias sued Angelo Dairy on behalf of himself and other employees, alleging a number of labor law violations, including failure to pay overtime hours and failure to provide proper breaks. A trial date was set for August 2011.
However, according to the appellate court’s written opinion, in June 2011, “the Angelos’ attorney, Anthony Raimondo, set in motion an underhanded plan to derail Arias’s lawsuit.” Raimondo contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to ultimately have Arias deported.
In email exchanges cited in the opinion, Raimondo told an ICE employee, “I hope this helps. [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.”
Facing potential deportation and separation from his family, Arias settled with Angelo Dairy in July 2011.
Arias filed the current complain on May 8, 2013, alleging that the Angelos and Raimondo had violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by retaliating against him for filing his case against the dairy. The Angelos settled their part of the case early on, but, according to the decision, “Raimondo’s sole legal defense is that because he was never Arias’s actual employer, he cannot be held liable under the FLSA for retaliation against someone who was never his employee.”
The district court agreed with Raimondo, “concluding that because Arias ‘ha[d] not alleged that [Raimondo] exercised any control over [his] employment relationship,’ Raimondo as a matter of law could not be Arias’s employer,” according to the appellate court’s decision.
Upon appeal, however, the upper court looked at the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision which makes it illegal “for any person… to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint,” and includes a “legal representative” in its definition of the term “person.”
As a result, the court concluded “that Arias may proceed with this retaliation action against Raimondo under FLSA." The appellate court reversed the district court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.