NEW YORK — A district court judge has struck down Donna Karan International’s request to learn the immigration status of workers at a Manhattan contractor who claim they are owed back pay.
The decision handed down last week was part of a two-year-old legal battle in which five garment workers are suing DKI and the factory they worked at, Jen Chu Fashion Corp., with violating minimum wage and overtime laws.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court upheld the claims of Hoffman Plastic Compounds Inc. in a case versus the National Labor Relations Board, ruling that employers were not liable to pay illegal immigrants back wages for work not performed after the workers in question were fired. U.S. citizens can petition for lost pay after being illegally fired.
Judge William Knapp wrote in his decision that it was “not clear” that precedent would apply to the DKI case, in which employees were trying to recover pay for hours they had worked. He also said there was a danger that seeking the immigration status of the workers in question would intimidate them out of pursuing their claim.
Ken Kimmerling, legal director at the Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund and one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the DKI case, said the decision “has implications well beyond this case. To suggest that workers who aren’t documented shouldn’t be entitled to sue and attain the minimum wage is pretty outrageous.”
A DKI spokeswoman said of the decision: “The order relates to a limited discovery request in a two-year-old lawsuit. In light of the changing nature of the law in the area, the court denied our request to take discovery of the immigration status of the plaintiffs at this time. However, it expressly provided our right to renew our request in the future, which we may do.”
The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status for the case being heard in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.