Metrowest Worker Center Statement on US Department of Labor Lawsuit Alleging Egregious Employer Retaliation Against Injured Immigrant Worker
For more information: Diego Low, Metrowest Worker Center, (508) 532-0575
Metrowest Worker Center is pleased to report that yesterday the U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that employer Tara Construction and its CEO Pedro Pirez egregiously and illegally retaliated against a worker who suffered and reported a serious workplace injury -- causing the worker to be arrested and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). We hope that workers throughout the region take heart from USDOL’s
action and feel empowered to pursue their legal and human rights. We also hope that employers take this case as a serious indication of the consequences of using immigration related threats and actions to illegally intimidate workers and to prevent them from exercising their basic workplace rights.
We will not stand for employers who target vulnerable workers to deny them their rights, undermining working conditions for the entire labor force and endangering our communities.
The worker in USDOL’s case, Jose Martin Paz Flores, is a hard-working, devoted husband and father who came to the United States over 18 years ago, fleeing violence and crime in his native Honduras. Since then, Mr. Paz Flores has established a life for himself and his family in the Boston area, raising his five children together with his wife and supporting them as a construction worker. On March 29, 2017, Mr. Paz Flores fell from a ladder while working as a
drywall taper for Tara Construction. He fractured his femur in the fall, requiring immediate hospitalization and surgery. Mr. Paz Flores soon learned, however, that Tara Construction had allowed its workers’ compensation insurance policy to lapse and, as a result, that he would not begin receiving wage loss compensation and medical coverage as required by law.
After being notified that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) had initiated an inquiry into the accident, and after also receiving notification that Mr. Paz Flores’ workers’ compensation insurance claim had been denied because of the policy lapse, Mr. Pirez and Tara Construction seemingly recognized the seriousness of their failure to meet their legal obligations. In an apparent attempt to prevent Mr. Paz Flores from pursuing his rights, Mr. Pirez and Tara Construction retaliated against him in a dramatic and life-changing way: Mr. Pirez contacted and collaborated with the Boston Police Department to have Mr. Paz Flores arrested and detained by ICE. On May 10, 2017, Mr. Pirez lured Mr. Paz Flores to the Tara Construction office with a promise of financial support. After handing Mr. Paz Flores $500 in cash, Mr. Pirez and others from Tara Construction watched as he left the office on crutches, returned to the car where a friend and his toddler son waited for him, and was detained and arrested by ICE.
Mr. Paz Flores subsequently spent 12 days in ICE detention, causing him great suffering and threatening his precarious medical recovery. He experienced excruciating physical pain in his leg that was worsened by trying to use crutches while his hands and feet were shackled, as well as the denial of pain medication for several days. His family was plunged into a financial and emotional crisis, suffering devastating fear and anxiety that he could be deported, leaving them without a husband and father. His two-year-old son could not sleep after having seen his father arrested.
The nonprofit human rights organization Metrowest Worker Center, together with workers’ compensation attorney Stacie Sobosik and immigration attorney Christina Corbaci, rallied public pressure and initiated government investigations in order to assist in obtaining Mr. Paz Flores’ release from detention. Yesterday’s filing by USDOL is the outcome of its OSHA investigation into the unlawful retaliation against Mr. Paz Flores for the protected activities of reporting a workplace injury and causing OSHA to initiate an inquiry. Attorney Audrey Richardson of Greater Boston Legal Services represents Mr. Paz Flores as a witness in the USDOL matter.
The brazenness of Tara Construction and Pedro Pirez’s retaliatory actions in this case are stunning. However, the basic pattern of employers who threaten retaliation, or who more subtly retaliate against workers to deter them from asserting their rights by reporting workplace injuries and other violations of their rights (including sexual harassment and wage theft), is a daily reality. While we are extremely concerned about the role of the Boston Police Department in this case and in collaborating with ICE more generally, the Metrowest Worker Center and allies reiterate that USDOL’s filing is a victory for workers’ rights and immigrant rights in the Commonwealth. This case is an important first step toward protecting workers, especially immigrant workers, from unlawful retaliation for exercising their basic workplace rights.
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