Can Illegal Immigrants Be Legally Paid? – Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB, 535 U.S. 137 (2002)

This U.S. Supreme Court case is about employment and illegal immigration. In May 1988 Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. (Hoffman) hired Jose Castro to operate mixing and cooking blending machines. At the time of hiring Castro showed documents authorizing him to work in the U.S. In January 1989 he took part in a union-organizing campaign at his employer’s production plant. As a result Castro along with other members of the campaign was fired.

In January 1992, the National Labor Relations Board (the Board) found out that Hoffman fired Castro and three other employees in order “to get rid of union supporters” in violation of § 8 (a) (3) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The Board ordered Hoffman to stop further violations of the NLRA, a well as reinstate and backpay to Hoffman and the other three employees.

In June 1993 during the hearing on the amount of backpay before the Administrative Law Judge Castro testified that he was from Mexico and never was admitted to and authorized to work in the U.S. He also said that he used his American friend’s birth certificate to get the job. Based on these facts the Administrative Law Judge ruled against awarding Castro backpay or reinstating him on the job.

Four years later in September 1998 the Board reserved with respect to backpay. The Board stated that protection and remedies of the NLRA should be extended to undocumented workers “in the same manner as to other employees.” Therefore the Board made a decision that Hoffman should pay Castro $66,951 of backpay, plus interest.

Hoffman filed an appeal in the Court of Appeals, which denied it. Then after rehearing the case en banc, the court denied it again. The Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed the case. In its decision the Court pointed out that Congress made it criminally punishable for an illegal immigrant to get an employment with false documents. To allow the backpay would be to encourage future violations of the immigration laws.

The Supreme Court ruled that under the federal immigration law the Board was not authorized to award backpay to an undocumented immigrant who was never allowed to work in the U.S.