United States

Court Upholds Termination of Undocumented Worker's Benefits

What to Know

  • Delaware's Supreme Court on Friday upheld a judge's decision terminating the disability benefits of a woman who is in the country illegally.
  • Magdalena Guardado injured her left wrist in 2010, was paid periods of total disability, returning to work until undergoing surgery in 2014.

Delaware's Supreme Court on Friday upheld a judge's decision terminating the disability benefits of a woman who is in the country illegally and was injured at work.

In a two-sentence order, the court without comment rejected Magdalena Guardado's claim that the state Industrial Accident Board erred in terminating her total disability benefits last year, and that a Superior Court judge wrongly upheld that decision this year.

At issue in the case was whether Guardado's former employer had adequately established that there are jobs available for her, given various limitations that have resulted in her being designated a "displaced worker."

Under Delaware law, a displaced worker is entitled to disability benefits if he or she suffers a compensable injury and faces significant challenges in finding regular employment opportunities.

At a hearing Wednesday before the full court, Guardado's attorney argued that Roos Foods had failed to establish that there are jobs available for her, given the "constellation" of restraints she faces. Those restraints include not just Guardado's undocumented status, but her limited education and experience, inability to speak or read English, and limited use of her left hand, according to attorney Walt Schmittinger.

But Chief Justice Leo Strine, who issued Friday's order, noted that the court must give deference to the board, and that undocumented workers are regularly employed in Delaware.

"The board made the decision ... she can find relatively entry-level employment in the retail or food industries if she tries. How can we say that there isn't substantial evidence that supports that decision?" Strine asked.

Guardado, an El Salvador native who came to the United States in 2004, injured her left wrist in 2010 while working at Roos Foods, a cheese company that ceased operations in 2014 following a listeria outbreak and the suspension of its food facility registration.

After being paid various periods of total disability, Guardado returned to work until undergoing surgery in 2014. A doctor cleared her to return to work less than two months later, and the company subsequently sought to terminate her total disability benefits.

The Industrial Accident Board denied the company's petition in 2015, saying Guardado, while physically capable of working, was a "displaced worker" solely because of her immigration status, and that the company's labor market survey had not shown there were jobs within Guardado's reach.

But the Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that a person's status as a worker living in the country illegally is not relevant in determining whether she is presumed to be a displaced worker.

Following a rehearing last year, the board again concluded that Guardado was a displaced worker, based on her limited education and minimal work experience as an unskilled laborer with limited hand movement. The panel nevertheless found that Guardado was medically employable, and that Roos Foods had demonstrated the availability of jobs within her capabilities.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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