Yesterday, the California Supreme Court ruled in Salas v. Sierra Chemical Co. that an employee who uses a false Social Security number to fraudulently obtain his job may still sue his employer for discrimination and recover damages.
At issue was whether a California state statute granting employment law rights to all California residents “regardless of immigration status” conflicted with — and, thus, was preempted by — federal immigration law. The Supreme Court ruled that the California state statute was not preempted because complying with both laws was possible up to the time when the employer discovered the employee’s fraud.
So now in California an employee can obtain a job using false and fraudulent means…but after he’s terminated he can sue his employer for employment discrimination…and he can recover lost wages from the time of termination up to the point where the employer discovered the fraud. Plus, the employee can recover emotional distress damages, penalties, and attorneys fees. All this is possible even though the employee admitted to using false and fraudulent documents to get his job and, thus, never had the legal right to work in the first place.
You can find the California Supreme Court’s opinion in Salas v. Sierra Chemical Co. here.
Note: In reaching its result, the California Supreme Court explicitly reversed the Court of Appeal’s prior ruling that the employee’s claims were barred by the after acquired evidence doctrine and the unclean hands doctrine. You can find my blog post about the Court of Appeal’s ruling here.