Tag Archives: Tennessee

Does An Illegal Alien Have Standing To Bring A Retaliatory Discharge Claim In Tennessee?

In Torres v. Precision Industries, P.I., Inc., et al. the Tennessee Court of Appeals recently answered the question of whether an illegal alien in Tennessee has standing to bring a retaliatory discharge claim.  Mr. Torres worked for Precision Industries as a convertor builder at its automotive manufacturing plant in Whiteville, Tennessee.  Torres was injured on the job and eventually retained a lawyer to represent him in connection with his workers’ compensation claim.  Torres’ lawyer called the defendants seeking the company’s fax number.  After this phone call Precision Industries Safety Manager and General Manager confronted Torres about his workers’ compensation claim and his decision to hire an attorney.  Later that day Torres was terminated for an alleged “lack of work”.  Torres then filed suit alleging he was discharged in retaliation for asserting a workers’ compensation claim.  It is undisputed that during the time he was employed by defendants Torres was an illegal alien.

The trial court granted defendants Motion for Summary Judgment and held that Torres could not assert a retaliatory discharge claim because he was not capable of employment due to his undisputed status as an illegal alien.  Torres appealed this decision to the Tennessee Court of Appeals and the Court of Appeals reversed.

The Court of Appeals first reviewed whether Torres’ immigration status would prevent him from filing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits.  The Court held that for workers’ compensation purposes an employee is anyone employed by another who works for wages or a salary, without regard to whether the employment is legal or illegal.  The Court also relied on a previous decision by the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Panel, Silva v. Martin Lumber Co., which held that an illegal alien is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

After making these finding the Court of Appeals considered defendants’ argument that Torres was incapable of performing the job.  The Court of Appeals reviewed the case relied on by defendants, Leatherwood v. UPS, and held that it stood for the proposition that an employee can be legally fired because he is physically incapable of performing a job, not that an illegal alien lacks standing to bring a retaliatory discharge claim.  As a result, the decision granting summary judgment was reversed and the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

This case does not mean that employers should ignore the immigration status of their employees.  To the contrary, it is illegal to knowingly employee an illegal alien and doing so can result in significant monetary penalties.  Additionally, terminating an employee because he or she is an illegal alien is a legitimate, non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory reason for the termination.  But an illegal alien who is fired for filing a workers’ compensation claim, or in retaliation for exercising other rights, can bring a retaliatory discharge claim and recover damages regardless of his immigration status.

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Tennessee Eliminates Private Suits For State Wage-Hour Law Violations

On April 23, 2013 Governor Haslam signed an amendment to Tennessee’s Wage Regulations Act  (Act) which eliminates private suits for state wage and hour law violations.  The amendment gives the Tennessee Department of Labor the exclusive power to enforce state wage and hour law.  The amendment also provides for an award of reasonable expenses, including attorneys’ fees and disbursements for claims brought under the Act.

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Tennessee Tells Local Governments to Stay Out of The Wage and Benefit Arena

On April 11, Governor  Haslam signed into law a  bill prohibiting local governments from mandating health insurance benefits, leave policies, hourly wage standards, or prevailing wage standards that deviate from existing requirements of state and federal law as a condition of doing business with or within the jurisdiction of the local government.

The new law means that cities and towns in Tennessee may not establish prevailing wages higher than the federal minimum wage and/or state or federal prevailing wages. Any such local laws already on the books  are no longer enforceable.

The new law also  includes a prohibition against local governments enacting so-called wage theft laws, stating that enforcement of existing wage statutes  is the right of the state and federal governments.

This is definitely a win for employers.

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Tennessee Supreme Court holds temporary employee must be treated the same as a permanent employee for workers’ compensation benefits

Recently the Tennessee Supreme Court held that an employee of a temporary agency who is injured on the job but not returned to work by the agency at a wage equal to or in excess of the pre-injury wage is entitled to benefits up to six times the medical impairment rating.  This is the same rate that a permanent employee could receive in the same circumstances.

In deciding Timmy Dale Britt v. Dyer’s Employment Agency the Supreme Court reversed the trial court which held that Mr. Britt was limited to one and one-half times the medical impairment rating, which is the rate that applies if the injured employee is returned to work at a wage equal to or in excess of the pre-injury wage.  The trial court based its holding on the fact that Mr. Britt was a temporary employee.  The Supreme Court held that the Tennessee workers’ compensation statutes do not distinguish between permanent and temporary employees.  Since Mr. Britt was never offered the opportunity to return to work the Court held the lower rate did not apply.

Governor Haslam has announced a plan to review and possibly overhaul Tennessee’s workers’ compensation system.  It will be interesting to see if this temporary employee issue will be addressed as part of that process.

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