BOSTON (AP) — A federal jury has awarded $650,000 in damages to a Massachusetts construction worker who said his employer retaliated against him after he was injured on the job by sparking an immigration investigation that 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, who is referred to as Paz in court documents.
The U.S. Department of Labor sued on behalf of Paz in March 2019, alleging the company and owner Pedro Pirez retaliated against him in violation of federal law.
Even though Paz was allegedly in the U.S. illegally, federal labor law prohibits retaliation against employees for exercising their workplace rights, regardless of immigration status, the agency said.
Paz, a drywall taper, broke his leg when he fell off a ladder in March 2017, according to court records.
Pirez contacted Boston police, who with the help of federal immigration officials, initiated an investigation into Paz. About two months after the injury, Pirez asked Paz to come to his office to pick up some money, where he was arrested, according to court records.
Pirez was concerned because there was some confusion over Paz's name and didn't envision the arrest, his lawyer said Wednesday, noting that his client is also a Latino immigrant who “cares deeply for people in Mr. Paz’s situation.”
“He needed to know Paz’s real name because the hospital was pressing for information, and he never foresaw what would ensue,” Daniel Dwyer said in a statement. “Later, ICE discovered information on its own that led to its decision to arrest.”
Pirez feels he was “misjudged” by the jury and is considering an appeal, Dwyer said.