Tennessee Court of Appeals Finds Illegal Aliens Have Standing to Bring Retaliatory Discharge Claims in Tennessee

Posted on Sep 21 2014 3:18PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee Court of Appeals in Ricardo Torres v. Precision Industries, P.I., Inc. et al. No. W2014-00032-COA-R3-CV, 2014 WL 3827820 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2014) decided whether an unauthorized alien has standing to bring a retaliatory discharge claim against their employer in Tennessee.  In this case an undocumented worker who did not have a legal right to work in the United States was allegedly fired from his job when he pursued a workers’ compensation claim.  The employee sued the employer for retaliatory discharge and asserted he was terminated because he filed a workers’ compensation claim.  The trial court dismissed this case by finding an individual who is not legally authorized to work in Tennessee did not have standing to bring a retaliatory discharge claim in Tennessee.


This case was appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals to determine this issue for the first time in Tennessee.  The Court noted that illegal aliens are entitled to bring Tennessee Workers’ Compensation claims despite their illegal status.  As a result, the Tennessee Court of Appeals found that “the ability to file a retaliatory discharge is a natural extension of what is already permitted in Tennessee and under other statutory schemes.” Torres at 9.  The court reasoned that since illegal employees are entitled to bring workers compensation claims, they have standing to bring retaliatory discharge claims for asserting rights under that same statutory scheme.  The Court of Appeals overruled the trial court’s dismissal of this claim and sent it back to the trial court for further proceedings.


This case is consistent with the overall trend across America that expands the rights of illegal or undocumented residents.  As this decision points out, illegal immigrants are already allowed to bring Tennessee Workers’ Compensation claims.  This case now provides an extension of those rights to retaliatory discharge claims (although this is not a Tennessee Supreme Court decision) even though illegal residents are not actually allowed to legally work in Tennessee. 


Even though illegal residents do have standing to bring this kind of claim, there are still certain issues that greatly impact the kind of award these individuals could actually obtain.  For instance, what are their actual damages when they could not be legally employed in Tennessee anyway?  The Court hinted at this when it stated, “we note that all remedies available to U.S. citizens may not be available to a successful unauthorized alien litigant; however, we need not address the issue of damages available to unauthorized aliens in Tennessee at this time, as merely standing is at issue in this appeal and the trial court has yet to adjudicate Torres' claim on the merits.” Torres at 9.  Ultimately, I think an illegal resident’s damages for a retaliatory discharge claim will be very limited.  These damages should be restricted by future Tennessee opinions on this issue.


Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Defense Litigation blog.

TAGS: Damages, Tennessee Workers Compensation, Employment Law, Civil Procedure
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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