On February 14, 2011, a magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois issued a decision in a personal injury action that permitted discovery into the plaintiff's immigration status to determine eligibility for lost wages. Zuniga v. Morris Material Handling Inc., Case No. 10-C-696 (N.D. Ill. February 14, 2011). Zuniga sued for injuries and lost wages he allegedly sustained while working for the defendants. During his deposition, defense counsel asked Zuniga about his immigration status, but Zuniga's counsel objected and instructed him not to answer.
The defendants subsequently moved to compel Zuniga to answer questions directed at his immigration status. They claimed that this information was relevant to Zuniga's claim to lost future earnings because it might limit or preclude such an award. To support its claims, the defendants relied on, among other cases, the Supreme Court's decision in Hoffman and its progeny. Zuniga countered that Illinois' workmen's compensation law allowed claims for lost wages regardless of immigration status, and that public policy thus barred the discovery sought by defendants. The Zuniga court, however, rejected Zuniga's arguments and found them inapplicable to suits for common law torts. For the purpose of such a tort claim, the court found that Zuniga's ability to work legally in the United States might affect his claim for lost wages and, thus, was discoverable. Zuniga, slip op. at 8.