A Fresno farmworker recently dismissed a retaliation case against a Fresno-based attorney for reporting him to federal immigration officials, following a $1 million settlement experts say sets a precedent for all workers in similar situations.
Jose Arnulfo Arias took his case to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where it was dismissed Jan. 14, following the settlement agreement. In 2006, Arias sued his former employer Angelo Dairy, in San Joaquin County, over wage and other workplace violations. At one point, his case landed at the state's Supreme Court.
During the heavily litigated case, attorney Anthony P. Raimondo, representing the dairy company, in 2011 reported Arias to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). That first case was settled in 2011, but then the California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) sued Angelo Dairy and its attorney Raimondo on behalf of Arias over retaliation for trying to get him deported.
The dairy company settled the second case in 2013, which is why the appeal was only against Raimondo.
Blanca A. Banuelos, director of the migrant unit at CRLA, said the most important precedent on this case is that not only employers will be held accountable for retaliation, but also individuals acting on behalf of the employer. The case also applies to all workers experiencing similar situations, regardless of legal status.
The message that Arias wants to get across with his victory is for "workers (to) understand that they should come forward and should not be fearful," Banuelos said.
"The courts will hold people accountable for retaliation," Banuelos said, who also represented Arias. Arias declined to be interviewed.
Meanwhile, Raimondo alleged the lawsuit filed by the CRLA on behalf of Arias was to retaliate against him for reporting the nonprofit about alleged violations of federal law.
As a nonprofit, Raimondo alleged, CRLA accepts grants from a federal agency called Legal Services Corporation. By federal law, he said, entities that accept federal funds are not allowed to represent people in the country illegally.
"The whole thing is a lie," he said.
Banuelos said CRLA, which continues to receive funds from the Legal Services Corporation, does have restrictions on who it can and can't represent, but there are exceptions. She said Raimondo is just trying to "derail attention" from Arias' case.
"He's been trying to do that since the beginning," she said.
No findings of wrongdoing by CRLA were ever issued by the Legal Services Corporation or any other entity, she said.
Raimondo also said he didn't report Arias to ICE. He said he was just wanted to confirm what Arias' status was in the country. But emails, which were included as exhibits in the lawsuit, show Raimondo on numerous occasions told an ICE forensic auditor that he was willing to assist and make arrangements if Arias needed to be detained by ICE.
"Those emails were taken out of context," he said.
In one of the emails, Raimondo informs ICE that Arias "will be attending a disposition next week."
"If there is an interest in apprehending him, please let me know so that we can make the necessary arrangements," he wrote.
Banuelos said the messages were not out of context.
"The language is clear," she said.
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