HR Management & Compliance

Nail Salon Must Pay Almost $236K After Court Rejects Immigration Defense Under FLSA

A New York-based luxury nail salon apparently wasn’t very polished in contending that its illegal immigrant workers were not subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act. After a federal district court pointed out clear case law to the contrary, the salon was ordered to pay $235,920 in damages and back wages to 32 employees.

The decision, announced March 27 by the U.S. Department of Labor, concluded a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2010 by DOL (Solis v. Cindy’s Total Care, Inc., No. 10-CV-7242 (S.D.N.Y. 2010)).

DOL charged that Cindy’s Total Care and its owner failed to pay workers the appropriate minimum wage and overtime due under the FLSA. According to the agency, salon employees were required to work more than 40 hours a week without earning overtime, were paid a day rate instead of an hourly wage and worked 10 hour-days for six days a week.

“These employees worked long hours and were unjustly denied their rightful wages,” said Maria Rosado, director of the Wage and Hour Division’s New York Office. “Vulnerable, low-wage workers in this industry often are afraid to step forward and complain when subjected to wage violations like the ones committed by this employer.”

Earlier in the court proceedings a federal court in New York issued an opinion confirming that immigration status is not a defense against accusations of FLSA violations after the defendants’ surprising initial defense argued that employee immigration status was a factor in the case.

Initially Cindy’s Total Care argued that because its workers were illegal immigrants they were not covered by FLSA provisions. The defendants eventually consented to withdraw their affirmative defense, but the court still issued an opinion on that defense in October. In line with a substantial body of previous decisions, District Judge Paul Engelmayer stated unequivocally that the salon employees were protected by the FLSA.

“In this case, an employee’s immigration status, or national origin, is clearly irrelevant [sic] to a claim for back pay for overtime wages under the FLSA. By its terms, the FLSA applies to ‘any individual’ employed by an employer, as the term ‘employer’ is defined by the Act [sic].”

Engelmayer’s opinion went on to stress that there are no FLSA exceptions for non-U.S. citizens or people in the United States illegally. One of the FLSA’s stated purposes , the opinion noted, is to prevent payment of substandard wages from being used as an unfair competitive advantage by businesses.

Ultimately the salon and its owner were ordered to pay a combined $117,960 in back wages, plus an equal amount in liquidated damages. Additionally, the court ordered that the salon be enjoined from future FLSA violations, and that it pay almost $9,000 in trial costs.

DOL has cited other nail salons in recent months, most notably conducting a targeted initiative focused on salons in Seattle that were allegedly misclassifying workers as independent contractors.