Sunday, August 14, 2011

Court of Appeal: False Social Security Number = Unclean Hands = No Case

Vicente Salas worked for Sierra Chemical Company. He was seasonal, and was repeatedly laid off and re-hired.  Along the way, he injured himself.  The company allegedly denied him re-hire after he did not produce a release from his doctor. Salas claimed he was told he had to be 100% healed, which is one of those ADA no-nos.  He sued for a variety of employment based claims, including disability discrimination, failure to provide reasonable accommodation, etc.

But Sierra found out that Salas used a false social security number and obtained summary judgment because of the "unclean hands" / after acquired evidence defenses.  (The trial court actually denied the motion, but the court of appeal issued an order to show cause in response to a petition for a writ, resulting in the trial court's changing its mind.)

Salas's use of another person's Social Security number to obtain employment with Sierra Chemical went to the heart of the employment relationship and related directly to his claims that Sierra Chemical wrongfully failed to hire him following his seasonal lay off and discriminated against him by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation for his back injury. Because Salas was not lawfully qualified for the job, he cannot be heard to complain that he was not hired. This is so even though he alleges that one reason for the failure to hire was Sierra Chemical's unwillingness to accommodate his disability.
In light of the nature of the misrepresentation, the fact that it exposed Sierra Chemical to penalties for submitting false statements to several federal agencies, and the fact that Salas was disqualified from employment by means of governmental requirements, we conclude that Salas‟s claims are also barred by the doctrine of unclean hands.

The court also rejected Salas' claim that the Legislature foreclosed the unclean hands/ after acquired evidence defense by passing SB 1818, which provides in pertinent part:
"The Legislature finds and declares the following: [¶] (a) All protections, rights, and remedies available under state law, except any reinstatement remedy prohibited by federal law, are available to all individuals regardless of immigration status who have applied for employment, or who are or who have been employed, in this state. [¶]
(b) For purposes of enforcing state labor, employment, civil rights and employee housing laws, a person‟s immigration status is irrelevant to the issue of liability...
The court noted that SB 1818 was intended to be "declarative of existing law," and so it did not abrogate existing defenses to employment law actions.

The upshot is that this case denies relief to employees who falsify their employment credentials, resulting in a violation of law if the employer continues to employ the employee.  The employer will have to show as well that the employer's settled policy is to discharge / refuse to hire employees who commit the type of violation at issue.

The case is Salas v. Sierra Chemical Co. and the opinion is here.