BOSTON (AP) — A federal jury has awarded $650,000 in damages to a Massachusetts construction worker who says his employer retaliated against him after he was injured on the job by triggering an investigation into the immigration which led to his arrest.
The jury on Tuesday ordered Tara Construction to pay $50,000 in compensatory damages for emotional distress and the company and its owner to pay a total of $600,000 in punitive damages to José Martin Paz Flores, called Paz in court documents.
The U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit on Paz’s behalf in March 2019, alleging the company and owner Pedro Pirez retaliated against him in violation of federal law.
Even if Paz would have been in the United States illegally, federal labor laws prohibit retaliation against employees for exercising their labor rights, regardless of their immigration status, the agency said.
Paz, a drywall cone, broke his leg falling from a ladder in March 2017, court records show.
Pirez contacted the Boston police, who, with the help of federal immigration agents, opened an investigation into Paz. About two months after the injury, Pirez asked Paz to come to his office to pick up some cash, where he was arrested, according to court records.
Pirez was worried because there was some confusion over Paz’s name and was not considering the arrest, his lawyer said Wednesday, noting that his client is also a Latino immigrant who “cares deeply for people in the situation of Mr. Paz”.
“He needed to know Paz’s real name because the hospital was pushing for information, and he never anticipated what would follow,” Daniel Dwyer said in a statement. “ICE later uncovered information on its own that led to its arrest decision.”
Pirez believes he was “misjudged” by the jury and plans to appeal, Dwyer said.