The courts in NY have grappled with wage claims by undocumented immigrants ever since the US Supreme Court touched on the subject in 2003 in Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. NLRB. New York’s highest court addressed the subject in 2006 in Balbuena v. IDR Realty. In the Balbuena case, an undocumented immigrant obtained employment without proffering any fraudulent documents — he simply applied for a job and was hired. The court held that “in the absence of proof that plaintiffs tendered false work authorization documents to obtain employment, [federal law] does not bar the maintenance of a claim for lost wages by an undocumented alien.” Thus, the court ruled that the plaintiffs in Balbuena were entitled to pursue a lost wage claim for injuries caused by the defendants’ violation of Labor Law 240 and 241.
Now comes Amoah v. Mallah Management, decided yesterday by an intermediate appellate court in Albany. Mr. Amoah arrived in the US legally with a seven-month visa that did not allow him to work. He obtained a job using a friend’s name, social security number, and driver license. That is, in the words of the Balbuena decision, he “tendered false work authorization documents to obtain employment.” Many months later (and long after his visa had expired), Amoah was injured on the job. He applied for workers comp benefits under his assumed identity. He had the support of his friend (who had loaned Amoah his identity) because his friend, who we will call “The Dealmaker,” agreed to the scheme as long as Amoah shared half of the workers comp award and two-thirds of any recovery in a lawsuit. Mr. Amoah found these terms too harsh and revealed his true identity to the workers comp board. He then pressed on with his workers comp claim under his true identity.
The appellate court ruled that Amoah is entitled to workers comp benefits even though he used false documentation to get his job and even though he used the same false documentation in applying for benefits. The court’s rationale was that to deny benfits to Amoah would encourage employers to hire illegal aliens in the hope that they (the employers) would then be able to escape comp claims by these same illegal aliens.