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Immigration Status of Employee Off -Limits in Contract Dispute

Should a business owner worry that his or her immigration status may come up in litigation over a business dispute? The New Jersey Appellate Division ruled on such a case in Gold Medal Bakery v. Super Bread, decided on May 22, 2014.

In Gold Medal, the plaintiff sought sued the defendant over a contract to provide baked goods. In the discovery stage, the plaintiff sought information about the immigration status of one of the Defendant’s employees.

The Plaintiff argued that this was relevant to the contract dispute between the companies because if the defendant’s employee was in the country illegally, then he would not have been permitted to be employed and should not have represented the business in dealing with others. The Plaintiff further argued that because the Defendant used  a non-citizen to represent it, that it did not follow corporate formalities.

The Appellate Division sided with the Defendant in this case, arguing that the employee’s immigration status did not have “a meaningful nexus” to the litigation and would cause undue prejudice to the Defendnat. It further said that an employee’s immigration status does not affect its corporate status,

So does that mean that an employee’s immigration status will never become an issue in litigation? Not exactly. This decision was narrowly focused on the facts of this case, but it does establish that there must be a “meaningful nexus” sufficient to overcome the undue prejudice that could result from allowing discovery on an individual’s immigration status.
While this decision may be specific to the facts of this case, it provides some guidance in determining the extent of information that is available to an adversary.