High Court Weighs Worker Rights

15.Jan.02,  first published by Associated Press: read the original article here.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Supreme Court justices tangled Tuesday over whether illegal immigrants have the same rights as Americans if they are mistreated at work.

U.S. citizens are entitled to back pay if wrongly fired, and the Bush administration argued that people in the country illegally deserve the same.

``The labor laws benefit everybody,'' government attorney Paul R.Q. Wolfson told the court during oral arguments in the case of a Mexican national who lied to get a job at a California plant and then was fired after trying to start a union.

The National Labor Relations Board said Jose Castro was owed nearly $67,000.

The board contends that if Castro is not paid for the wrongful firing, other companies will believe they can exploit illegal workers. Wolfson said with about 7 million undocumented workers in the United States, the ruling could have a significant impact.

Several of the conservative court members complained that Castro was being rewarded for faking documents to get a job, while the employer that didn't know he was illegal was penalized.

Justice Antonin Scalia (news - web sites) said he was surprised that the Immigration and Naturalization Service supported the labor board in rewarding illegal workers.

``It explains why we have a problem with massive illegal immigration if that's how the INS feels about this,'' he told Wolfson.

Justice Stephen Breyer (news - web sites), one of the four more liberal justices, said employers could be encouraged to ``run some God-awful sweatshops.''

An employer ``has to pay for the sweat,'' retorted Scalia, one of the court's most conservative members and considered a friend of business.

``It's pretty low cost, violating every labor law under the sun,'' responded Breyer.

The case, Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. National Labor Relations Board, 00-1595, was one of two involving worker firings that the court reviewed Tuesday.

In the other case, justices seemed more united in their skepticism of an appeals court decision that would make it harder for employees to sue for alleged discrimination.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (news - web sites) said that Akos Swierkiewicz didn't provide specific enough information when he sued Sorema N.A., a French-owned reinsurance company, claiming the company fired him because of his age and origin.

Swierkiewicz, an American of Hungarian descent who was 50 when he was fired, is asking the Supreme Court to reinstate his lawsuit. The court's ruling will clarify how much information must be included in those types of lawsuits.

``Like it or not, the federal rules do not require'' extensive facts in initial court filings, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (news - web sites) told Sorema's attorney. The case is Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, N.A., 00-1853.