In a unanimous verdict after about four hours of deliberation, jurors found that the U.S. Department of Labor, which filed a civil suit on Paz’s behalf, had proven that the now West Bridgewater-based company and its chief executive , Pedro Pirez, retaliated against Paz for reporting the injury, prompting an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The jury ordered the company to pay Paz $50,000 in compensatory damages for emotional distress and $200,000 in punitive damages, and ordered Pirez to pay an additional $400,000 in punitive damages.
“It’s a win after a long, long fight,” Paz said, speaking through an interpreter in a phone interview. “When workers go through difficult situations like this, they cannot remain silent.”
Paz, who entered the country illegally from Honduras in 2000 and lives in Malden, testified at the trial and said he was grateful to the Department of Labor attorneys who pursued the case, as well as to attorneys and the community organizations that helped him.
Audrey Richardson, a Greater Boston Legal Services attorney who represents Paz, said the verdict was significant because “it’s abundantly clear that employers who think they can take advantage of a worker’s undocumented immigration status to undermine their ability to exercise their basic rights at work, in this case reporting an injury and obtaining medical attention, will suffer serious consequences.
In a statement after the verdict, attorney Daniel J. Dwyer, who represents Pirez and the company, said, “Tara is a model employer and Pedro Pirez has not retaliated against Mr. Paz. We have great respect for the jury, but believe they misjudged the evidence, and we have strong legal grounds to appeal.
On the morning of March 29, 2017, Paz, a married father of five, said he was working as a drywall cone at an apartment complex in Roxbury when he fell from a ladder and broke his arm. leg. He was rushed to hospital by ambulance and underwent surgery.
During opening statements at the trial last week, Labor Department attorney Suzanne Reilly told jurors that Tara Construction orchestrated Paz’s arrest in an effort to have him deported because she let expire his workers’ compensation insurance and did not want to pay it while he recovered. of his injuries.
“They could have admitted the consequences of what happened, but they didn’t; they retaliated against an injured worker,” Reilly said. “Laws that protect employees apply to all employees, whether documented or not.
But Dwyer told jurors that Paz was “confusing who he was, most likely on purpose, because he was an undocumented worker who had been deported and had something of a past.”
Paz was called Martin Paz and provided a fake social security card and green card to get hired, Dwyer said. The company became concerned when the hospital called after Paz’s accident, saying he had a different name, Jose Flores.
Pirez asked his cousin, a Boston police detective, to investigate Paz’s true identity, which led to the discovery that he was in the country illegally, triggering a call to ICE, he said. He described Pirez as a Cuban immigrant, whose father was sent to prison by Fidel Castro. He said Pirez knows what family pain is and “would never do something so cruel to anyone else.”
Paz spent nearly two weeks in jail after his arrest and was facing deportation when the Labor Department stepped in and launched an investigation.
“This is proof that if we remain silent, no one will hear us and know our situation,” said Paz, who is now a legal resident and working.
Diego Low, director of the Metro West Worker Center, who has been supporting Paz since his injury, said: “It’s incredibly common to undermine people’s will to come forward when they’re injured, so this win is a real signal for the immigrant community that their rights can effectively be defended. And that’s something super important because most of the time people back off.