WASHINGTON, March 27 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Wednesday the National Labor Relations Board cannot order back pay or other awards to an illegal alien, even if the alien was unfairly fired.
In announcing the narrow decision from the bench, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said, "We have consistently set aside an NLRB award when there is a serious crime connected with the employment."
Rehnquist said the award violated the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.
The case comes out of Los Angeles.
In May 1988, Hoffman Plastic Compounds -- which custom formulates chemical compounds for a variety of businesses -- hired Jose Castro to run a machine to "mix and cook" the formulas.
Before being hired, Castro presented documents that purported to show he was allowed to work in the United States.
In December of that year, an AFL-CIO branch began union activities at the plant, and Castro and several other employees supported the campaign.
The company laid off Castro and those other workers a month later.
Three years later, the NLRB found that Castro and three other employees had been singled out for a layoff because of their union activities. The board ordered Hoffman to stop its illegal actions, and to give back pay and reinstatement to those workers affected.
However, as both sides participated in a compliance hearing before an administrative law judge, Castro testified that he was born in Mexico and had illegally entered the United States.
Nor had he ever been legally entitled to work in this country, Castro admitted, saying before he was hired he had presented Hoffman with the birth certificate of a friend who had been born in Texas.
The administrative judge then ruled that the NLRB could not order Hoffman to give Castro back pay or his job back, citing a 1984 Supreme Court decision and a federal law that makes it unlawful for a company to knowingly hire an illegal alien.
But in September 1998 the NLRB reversed the administrative judge on the back pay issue, ruling that Hoffman had to pay Castro nearly $67,000.
When a federal appeals court refused to review the board, Hoffman asked the Supreme Court for review.
The justices heard argument in January.
Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by the court's three other liberal members, dissented.
"As all the relevant agencies (including the Department of Justice) have told us," Breyer wrote, the NLRB's "limited back pay order will not interfere with the implementation of immigration policy. Rather, it reasonably helps to deter unlawful activity that both labor laws and immigration laws seek to prevent."
Wednesday's decision reverses the appeals court.
(No. 00-1595, Hoffman vs. NLRB)