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Ariz.: Undocumented Employee Entitled to Trial on Wage Claims

By Diane Cadrain  7/10/2014
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A convenience store employee’s unlawful immigration status was not a bar to his going to trial on his claim that he was misclassified and underpaid under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), an Arizona federal court ruled.

Adran Mariche worked at a gas station convenience store, first as an hourly cashier, then in a salaried managerial position which, in the view of his employer, Phoenix Oil, was exempt from overtime under the FLSA. But in Mariche’s view, while in that position, he ended up  doing the same work as hourly employees—but working longer hours without compensation.

He sued the company under the FLSA for unpaid wages based on his alleged misclassification as an exempt employee. Phoenix asked the court to dismiss the case at an early stage, claiming that Mariche was properly classified as exempt, and also that his immigration status barred him from recovering unpaid wages under the FLSA.

On the immigration issue, the court pointed to two decisions from federal appeal courts, holding that employees who were unlawfully present in the United States were nevertheless entitled to recover under the FLSA for work already performed. Otherwise, the court said, an employer could take advantage of workers by using their labor without paying for it “in accordance with minimum FLSA standards." The court held that Mariche’s immigration status did not bar his claim.

Turning to the FLSA claim, the court pointed out that to prove that Mariche was employed in a bona fide executive capacity, and was therefore exempt from overtime pay, Phoenix had to show evidence of four factors: 1) that he was paid at least $455 per week; 2) that his main duties were managerial, 3) that he regularly supervised two or more employees, and 4) that he had authority to make, or an authoritative say in, hiring and firing decisions.

But the court pointed out that the parties disputed nearly every material fact, including Mariche’s job duties, the number of employees he supervised, whether he hired or fired employees, and whether deductions taken for cash register shortages ever brought his salary under the minimum threshold for an exempt employee. In light of these numerous disagreements, the court stated that its job at this point was to decide whether there were any material facts which could be sorted out by a trial. Obviously there were, the court said, and refused to dismiss the case at an early stage.

Mariche v. Phoenix Oil, D. Ariz., No. CV-13-00550-PHX-NVW (June 3, 2014).

Diane Cadrain is an attorney who has been writing about employment law issues for more than 20 years.

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