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Rigoberto Jose Manuel was employed by BrightView Landscape Services, an irrigation technician from 2007 to 2018. In January 2018 Manuel injured his back while on the job.

Manuel alleges that BrightView initially refused to take him to the company medical clinic and then had him sign a waiver for medical treatment. However, after several days of back pain Manuel went to an occupational medicine clinic accompanied by another BrightView employee. A physician examined Manuel, determined that he had sustained a back injury, and returned him to work with certain restrictions.

After Manuel returned to work and completed a full shift on January 22, 2018, Manuel’s immediate supervisor told him not to return to work and BrightView terminated his employment. Manuel filed a civil lawsuit against his employer for wrongful termination.

After Manuel objected to BrightView’s written discovery requests inquiring into his immigration status, BrightView brought a motion for an order compelling Manuel to provide further responses, which the trial court granted in its November 16, 2020 order.

Manuel challenged the order by filing a petition for writ of mandate. In the published case of Manuel v Superior Court H048665 (August 2022) the Court of Appeal issued a peremptory writ of mandate directing the trial court to vacate its order and to enter a new order denying BrightView’s motion for an order compelling Manuel to provide further responses to written discovery inquiring into his immigration status.

BrightView argued that its written discovery requests properly sought evidence from Manuel “establishing he was legally authorized to work in the United States.”

Manuel relied on the statutory provisions of Government Code section 7285, Labor Code section 1171.5, Civil Code section 3339, and Health and Safety Code section 2400, which he argued prohibited inquiry into a person’s immigration status unless the person seeking to make the inquiry has shown by clear and convincing evidence that the inquiry is necessary to comply with federal immigration law.

In 2002 Senate Bill 1818 added four nearly identical provisions to California’s statutory scheme, including Civil Code section 3339, Government Code section 7285, Health and Safety Code section 24000, and Labor Code section 1171.5. SB 1818 was in response to the United States Supreme Court’s decision earlier the same year in Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB (2002) 535 U.S. 137, 122 S.Ct. 1275.

In Hoffman, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the NLRB could not “award backpay to an illegal alien for years of work not performed, for wages that could not lawfully have been earned, and for a job obtained in the first instance by a criminal fraud.”

Subsequently however, the California Supreme Court ruled in Salas v. Sierra Chemical Co. (2014) 59 Cal.4th 407 that Senate Bill 1818 was not preempted by federal law to the extent it makes the remedy of lost wages for unlawful termination available for the “prediscovery period,” when the “employer remains unaware of the employee’s unauthorized status.”

In Salas, the California Supreme Court reasoned that “not allowing unauthorized workers to obtain state remedies for unlawful discharge, including prediscovery period lost wages, would effectively immunize employers that, in violation of fundamental state policy, discriminate against their workers on grounds such as disability or race, retaliate against workers who seek compensation for disabling workplace injuries, or fail to pay the wages that state law requires.”

Thus in this case the Court of Appeal agreed with Mr. Manuel and concluded that “under Senate Bill 1818 and its statutory enactments the trial court acted outside the scope of the court’s discretion when the court granted BrightView’s motion to compel further responses to written discovery inquiring into Manuel’s immigration status.”