Court Holds For The Employer-IIlegal Worker-Lawsuit Gets Tossed
This week, a California court held that the after acquired evidence doctrine barred an employee’s disability discrimination claims where in the course of litigation the employer learned that the employee was not authorized to work in the United States. In Salas v. Sierra Chemical, Plaintiff Vicente Salas was a seasonal worker at Sierra Chemical who hurt his back and filed a workers’ compensation claim. He was not recalled to work following the annual layoff, and claimed that the failure to do so constituted disability discrimination, and a failure to hire in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim. During the litigation, Sierra Chemical investigated and determined that the social security number provided by Salas in the hiring process did not actually belong to him. Instead, it was a social security number belonging to a resident of North Carolina. Based on evidence that Salas had misrepresented his eligibility to work in theUnited States and had provided false information to the company, Sierra Chemical filed a motion requesting that the court throw out Salas’ lawsuit. The basis for the motion was the after acquired evidence defense, with Sierra Chemical arguing that had they known the truth about Salas’ ineligible to work status he never would have been hired in the first place and, therefore, Sierra Chemical could not properly be held liable for a failure to hire/re-hire based claim. The court agreed with Sierra Chemical.
The after acquired evidence doctrine serves as a defense to allegedly discriminatory failure to hire or wrongful termination where the evidence acquired that would have resulted in the challenged termination or refusal to hire. Salas claimed that Sierra Chemical did not hire him because of his disability, a claim that fails because he was not lawfully eligible to be hired.
In short, Salas is an employer friendly decision, but serves only to clarify, not to expand, the after acquired evidence defense. This defense is used under the specific circumstances as noted above. Workers Compensation claims are not impacted but retaliation claims under Labor Code section 132 (a) may well be.
Hopefully the Ninth Court Circuit of Appeals won’t reverse the decision.