Illegal immigrant wins ruling on unpaid wages

? Siding with a former Burrito Express cook in Wichita who said he had been promised $6 an hour but was paid much less, Kansas’ highest court ruled Friday that illegal immigrants can collect unpaid wages, plus a penalty, from their employers.

The Supreme Court’s decision dealt with a state law requiring employers to pay workers’ full wages at least once a month. That law allows the Department of Labor to double the amount of money an employee collects if an employer deliberately withholds wages.

A Sedgwick County judge had concluded Cesar Martinez Corral wasn’t due the additional penalty from Coma Corp., the Burrito Express’ owner, because he was an illegal immigrant. The judge said allowing the additional penalty would encourage illegal immigration and “trivialize” federal immigration laws.

But the Supreme Court said the law is clear on its face, covering all employees, whether they’re in the United States legally or not. Furthermore, the justices said in their unanimous opinion, Kansas has a strong tradition of making sure workers get paid the wages they’re promised.

“To deny or dilute an action for wages earned but not paid on the grounds that such employment contracts are ‘illegal,’ would thus directly contravene the public policy of the state of Kansas,” Justice Lawton Nuss wrote in the court’s opinion.

The company argued that Corral had accepted lower pay – and a place to live – until business at the restaurant picked up. The restaurant eventually closed in May 2004, costing Corral his job after seven months, said Diane Barger, an attorney representing Coma Corp.

While she was disappointed in the ruling, Barger said the court at least clarified how the law applies to illegal immigrants.