Big win for immigrant workers in Aurora wage theft case

Getting paid can be complicated for salaried immigrant workers – frequent victims of wage theft.

Take the story of Walter Mancia. After years of working long hours at Carniceria y Verduleria Guadalajara, a grocery store in Aurora, his salary wasn’t adding up. Money he was owed was missing. So, two years ago, he and more than 40 other employees of the store who had worked there since 2009 took their complaints to court.

Last Friday, Colorado’s U.S. District Court approved a total settlement for the recovery of $305,000 in back wages and penalties for Mancia and his colleagues.

Employees involved in the suit worked for Carniceria y Verduleria Guadalajara starting in 2009, and were eligible for a portion of the money based on their hours worked.

“Workers are entitled to minimum wage and overtime regardless of their immigration status. I think that often, both employers and employees think that they don’t have any protections because they may be undocumented, but that’s not the case,” said Nina DiSalvo, lawyer and executive director of Towards Justice, the organization that served as Mancia’s counsel.

“Even if you are making a salary, it still has to add up to minimum wage. You still are entitled to overtime. And if it doesn’t add up enough to compensating you, it’s illegal.”

Towards Justice believes that wage theft at Carniceria y Verduleria Guadalajara wasn’t due to malicious intent. The grocery store’s owners were confused by laws pertaining to minimum wage and overtime pay for salaried employees.

Whenever a salary doesn’t match up to at least minimum wage for hours worked and employees aren’t entitled to overtime pay, it is illegal, said DiSalvo, something the store’s owners did not understand.

While wage theft can affect anyone in the workforce, low-wage workers are often disproportionately harmed.

DiSalvo said Mancia’s $305,000 case brings attention to an even more vulnerable population of employees – immigrants and undocumented workers.

“It’s an important message to the community: If an employer hires a person and that person does work for them, that person – regardless of immigration status — is protected by the wage and hour laws, both state and federal.”

Photo credit: Garry Knight, Creative Commons, Flickr.