Continental Pet Technologies Inc. v. Palacias, 604 S.E.2d 627 CGa.App. 2004), Court of Appeals of Georgia, Sept. 13, 2004.
Juana Sandoval Palacias was injured on the job while working for Continental Pet Technologies Inc. in Georgia. She had been in the United States illegally since 1994 and worked full time for ContinentaI for five years before her accident. She used fraudulent documents to secure a position as a janitor.
Continental denied her claim for workers'-compensation coverage for medical expenses and lost wages. At a hearing, the administrative-law judge directed Continental to pay the benefits. Continental appealed the decision to the Georgia Court of Appeals, arguing Palacias was barred from seeking workers'-comp benefits under Georgia law because federal law makes it unlawful to employ an illegal alien. Continental asserted under the federal law, any employment contract between Continental and Palacias was void. According to Continental, the law, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1996 (IRCA), prohibits the hiring of known illegal aliens and the use of fraudulent documents to obtain employment and pre-empts Georgia's workers'comp statute because Congress regulated the employment status of illegal aliens.
The appellate court rejected Continental's arguments concluding Palacias was entitled to workers'comp benefits. The court noted the law's focus is on preventing employers from hiring unauthorized aliens, and that IRCA did not prohibit illegal aliens from receiving state workers'-comp benefits. Citing a decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court, the Georgia court stated: "The goal of the IRCA to reduce the incentives for employers to hire illegal aliens would be subverted by allowing employers to avoid workers'-comp liability for work-related injuries to those employees, since this would provide employers with a financial incentive to hire illegal aliens. "