Labor and Employment Law

Ca. Labor & Emp't Rev. September 2014, Volume 28, No. 5

Salas v. Sierra Chemical Co.: Employee’s Perspective

by David C. Rancaño and Ken Van Arsdel

David C. Rancaño is with Rancaño & Rancaño, PLC, a firm with offices in Sacramento, Stockton, and Modesto. Among other areas, the firm’s practice focuses on employment discrimination, personal injury, and workers compensation. Mr. Rancaño’s firm represented the plaintiff in Salas v. Sierra Chemical Co. Ken Van Arsdel is a senior paralegal for Rancaño & Rancaño, PLC in Modesto, where he works primarily on law & motion matters.

Can state employment and civil rights laws that protect "any person" from employment discrimination be harmonized with federal immigration laws that prohibit the employment of undocumented immigrants? In a remarkable and highly-anticipated opinion, the Supreme Court of California recently answered that question.

In Salas v. Sierra Chemical Co.,1the high court concluded that federal immigration law does not preempt the availability of state law employee protections to all workers regardless of immigration status, as reaffirmed by the Legislature in 2002 when it enacted Senate Bill 1818. At the same time, the court concluded that federal immigration law does preempt SB 1818’s damages provision "to the extent it authorizes an award of lost pay damages for any period after the employer’s discovery of an employee’s ineligibility to work in the United States. . . ."2 The court also held that the equitable doctrines of after-acquired evidence and unclean hands do not provide employers with complete defenses to claims under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), "although they do affect the availability of remedies"3in cases brought by workers who obtained their employment using false documents.

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