The state Supreme Court has ruled that immigration status cannot be used against an employee when filing a workers’ compensation claim in Pennsylvania. At least that’s the case with one illegal immigrant’s workers’ compensation claim.
David Cruz, a South American immigrant, refused to disclose whether he lives and works in the United States legally after he filed a claim against his employer, Kennett Square. Justice Debra McCloskey Todd upheld an earlier ruling that stated Cruz was eligible for payments. According to Todd, employers must bear the burden of proof when it comes to the legal status of their employees.
Kennett Square Specialties appealed the claim to the Supreme Court after the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board and the Commonwealth Court upheld that Cruz should be awarded disability benefits.
The injury that sent this case to court happened in 2008. Cruz was a truck driver for the mushroom grower, Kennett Square. After injuring his back, his doctor put him on light duty, which meant he could not lift anything over 15 pounds. He was also prohibited from bending or reaching.
Based on Cruz’s new physical restrictions, Kennett Square claimed that there was no other work available for the immigrant. He was placed on temporary workers’ compensation until the company ended his benefits in September 2008. Cruz testified before a workers’ compensation judge that he had been in the United States for 10 years and is originally from Ecuador. However, when asked about the legal status of his immigration, he invoked his Fifth Amendment rights. He also pleaded the fifth when asked whether he used his wife’s Social Security number improperly.
The compensation judge concluded that Kennett Square had proven that Cruz was not authorized to work in the United States, but as the case moved up through the courts, that ruling was overturned.