It apparently hasn't been filed yet, but the former housekeeper of Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman plans to file a civil action for unpaid wages and mileage reimbursement against Whitman. The housekeeper, Nicandra "Nicky" Diaz Santillan, has come forward and admitted that she is an illegal immigrant who deceived Whitman and the agency that placed her by using a fake social security card and a driver's license to prove her immigration status. Whitman fired her last year. Santillan says it was because Whitman planned to run for governor and didn't want the attention that comes from employing an illegal alien. Whitman says it's because Santillan came to her and asked for help obtaining legal status, at which point Whitman realized that she could no longer employ Santillan.
Santillan is represented by Gloria Allred, who issued a press release earlier this week that described Whitman's employment practices as "don't ask, don't tell" and said that "Don't ask don't tell may have become OMG, she will tell if I continue to employ her." That seems a bit counterintuitive to us. Ordinarily, we've found that employers are more like to worry about what people will tell if you fire them, not what they'll tell if you let them keep a job, especially when you are paying $23 an hour for a housekeeper.
Allred said Whitman caused the worker to "feel exploited, disrespected, humiliated, and emotionally and financially abused." As a result, she'll be suing for back wages for off-the-clock work, and unpaid mileage incurred while running errands. It wouldn't surprise us to learn that a wealthy executive had a personal assistant working off the clock and running errands without getting mileage, but that part of the case isn't getting much attention. All anyone cares about is that this woman wasn't in the U.S. legally. The hot topic is not whether Whitman cheated her employee out of wages or expense reimbursements. It's whether Whitman should have known Santillan was illegal after receiving a letter from the U.S. Social Security Administration office, which advised Whitman that Santillan’s name did not match her Social Security number. Allred has already shared a blowup of the letter with the media. There are two versions of how the housekeeper got the letter. One version is that she pulled it from the trash and saved it for seven years. The other version is that Whitman's husband asked her to look into the problem. Curiously, the source for both versions is the housekeeper.
Perhaps it's because we don't love media attention as much as we love getting money for our exploited clients, but we can't help but think that this media circus benefits the lawyers and the Brown campaign more than it benefits the plaintiff. This is probably a case that could have been settled for a pretty big chunk of change, quietly and quickly, without exposing the plaintiff as a person who broke the law by falsifying documents and who is eligible for deportation. When we represented undocumented workers in wage claims, we make it a point to keep their immigration status as unknown as possible.