August 13, 2014
Unauthorized Alien Permitted to Sue for Retaliatory Discharge in Tennessee
The Tennessee Court of Appeals has held that an "unauthorized alien" (or "undocumented worker" or "illegal alien") who was employed by a Tennessee employer, who was injured on the job, who asserted a workers' compensation claim, and who was then terminated from his employment, does have standing to file a lawsuit asserting retaliatory discharge against his employer.
In Torres v. Precision Industries, P.I., Inc., the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the employer. The employer had persuaded the trial judge that the employee could not be "denied something which he had no legal right to in the first place," i.e., employment. However, the Court of Appeals rejected this argument, holding that a cause of action for retaliatory discharge is intended to protect an employee's right to pursue a workers' compensation claim, not his "right to work." The Court considered Tennessee precedents and held that, under Tennessee law, an unauthorized alien does have a right to pursue a workers' compensation claim in Tennessee, because of Tennessee's "broad, all-inclusive" definition of "employee" in the workers' compensation statutes.
The Court of Appeals left an open question as to whether the employee would be entitled to all the same remedies and damages to which a U.S. Citizen would be entitled, if he prevails on his claim. Therefore, if this case proceeds to trial, we might expect another appeal may be necessary to address these questions related to damages and remedies.