WINDSON DEV. CORP. et al.
January 8, 1999
Record No. 980190
WINDSON DEVELOPMENT CORP., ET AL.
Present: All the Justices
OPINION BY JUSTICE BARBARA MILANO KEENAN
FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA
The primary issue in this appeal is whether the
Court of Appeals erred in affirming a decision of the Workers’
Compensation Commission denying a claimant, an illegal alien,
benefits because he misrepresented his immigration status and
eligibility for employment in the United States.
Jose Ismael Granados was employed as a
carpenter’s helper by Windson Development Corporation (Windson)
in January 1995. He speaks Spanish and does not speak or read
English. At the time Granados was hired, Cleo Heavener, Windson’s
representative, asked Granados to provide his "social
security card" and one other form of identification, in
accordance with the requirements of the United States Department
of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Granados gave Heavener a "social security
card" bearing his name and a card purportedly issued by the
Immigration and Naturalization Service, containing his photograph
and identifying him as a resident alien. At that time, Granados
also signed an employment eligibility and verification form
required by federal law, attesting that he was an alien lawfully
admitted for permanent residence in the United States. The
documents Granados provided were forged. He was ineligible for
lawful employment in the United States both on the date he began
work and on the date he sustained a work-related injury.
In February 1995, Granados was injured in the
course of his employment when he fell off a "stack of
lumber" and fractured his right ankle. He was totally
disabled until June 1995, when his treating physician released
him for light duty work. Based on his illegal work status,
Granados was unable to market his remaining work capacity.
Granados filed a claim for benefits with the
Workers’ Compensation Commission (the Commission). At a hearing
before a deputy commissioner, and in his responses to
interrogatories, Granados admitted that he had never applied for
a social security card or any kind of work permit, that he was
not a permanent resident alien, and that he was ineligible for
employment in the United States. Granados did not dispute that
the documents he provided to Windson were forged.
Heavner testified that Windson did not hire
applicants who lacked proper documentation of their immigration
status. He also stated that Windson would not have hired Granados
if he had failed to produce documents indicating that he was
eligible for employment.
Granados asked the deputy commissioner to
compel Windson to respond to his discovery request seeking all of
Windson’s employment records from 1990 to 1995. The deputy
commissioner determined that the documents were not relevant to
the proceeding and denied the request. The deputy commissioner
issued an opinion denying Granados benefits on the ground that he
"materially misrepresented his employment eligibility by (1)
providing a false social security card, (2) providing a [false] alien immigration card[,] and (3) signing the Employment
Eligibility Verification Form."
The full Commission affirmed the deputy
commissioner’s decision, holding that Granados’ claim for
benefits was properly denied because he obtained his employment
by misrepresentation. The Commission stated that Windson
"properly relied on the documents presented. Had [Heavener] been aware of claimant’s true alien status, he would not have
hired him. . . . The claimant cannot now complain
that the employer was taken in by the forged documents which he
presented to obtain this employment." The Commission also
affirmed the deputy commissioner’s ruling denying Granados’
motion to compel the production of Windson’s employment records.
A panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed the
Commission’s decision in an opinion that was withdrawn when the
Court granted Granados’ request for a rehearing en banc. On
rehearing en banc, the Court entered an order, without opinion,
affirming the Commission’s decision "by an equally divided
court." Granados v. Windson Dev. Corp., 26 Va. App.
251, 494 S.E.2d 162 (1997).
On appeal, Granados first asserts that the
Commission erred in denying him benefits on the basis of his
false representations, because there was no causal connection
between those representations and the injury he sustained. He
argues that his injury was "independent of the condition
which was misrepresented."
In response, Windson contends that Granados was
properly denied benefits based on his false representations.
Windson argues that there was a causal connection between
Granados’ false representations and his injury, because the
evidence showed that he would not have been hired without the
"proof" he submitted to document his immigration and
The test we apply on review is well settled. A
false representation made by an employee in applying for
employment will bar a later claim for workers’ compensation
benefits if the employer proves that 1) the employee
intentionally made a material false representation; 2) the
employer relied on that misrepresentation; 3) the employer’s
reliance resulted in the consequent injury; and 4) there is a
causal relationship between the injury at issue and the
misrepresentation. Prince William County Serv. Auth. v. Harper,
256 Va. 277, 280, 504 S.E.2d 616, 617 (1998); Falls Church
Constr. Co. v. Laidler, 254 Va. 474, 477-78, 493 S.E.2d 521,
The case before us presents the same type of
causation issue we addressed in Harper. There, an employee
sustained injuries to her wrist and coccyx while performing her
job. She had been hired after falsely stating in her employment
application that she had not been convicted of a crime as an
adult. In fact, she had been convicted of the felonies of
insurance fraud and criminal conspiracy. Her employer’s personnel
director testified at a hearing before a deputy commissioner that
the employee would not have been hired if she had disclosed her
felony convictions, because of the nature of the convictions and
their recent date. 256 Va. at 279, 504 S.E.2d at 617.
We affirmed the Court of Appeals’ judgment
upholding the award of compensation. We stated that the employer
failed to prove its claim of false representation, because
testimony that the employee would not have been hired if she had
disclosed her felony convictions "is not sufficient to
demonstrate the existence of a causal relationship between [the
employee’s] work-related injury and her misrepresentation." Id.
at 280, 504 S.E.2d at 617.
The required causal connection between an
injury and a false representation was demonstrated in McDaniel
v. Colonial Mechanical Corp., 3 Va. App. 408, 350 S.E.2d 225
(1986), in which the complainant had sustained a work-related
back injury. At the time he was hired, the employee denied in his
employment application that he had any physical limitations that
would prevent him from performing certain types of work, and
stated that he had never received workers’ compensation benefits
for his injuries. However, the employee had injured his back
about six months earlier in a previous job and had received
compensation benefits for that injury for about five weeks. Id.
at 410, 350 S.E.2d at 226.
The Court of Appeals held that there was a
causal relationship between the employee’s false representations
and his injury. The Court based its holding on the medical
evidence, which established that the second injury was in the
same area of the employee’s back as the earlier injury and was
accompanied by similar complaints of pain radiating into the
right leg. Id. at 413, 350 S.E.2d at 228.
In the present case, Windson failed to
demonstrate the required causal relationship between Granados’
false representation and his resulting injury. Granados’ injury
was unrelated to the substance of his false representations
concerning his immigration status and eligibility for employment.
Therefore, based on Harper, we conclude that the
Commission erred in ruling that Granados’ false representations
precluded an award of benefits.
Windson asserts, however, that even if the
Commission’s reason for denying benefits to Granados was
erroneous, the record still demonstrates that the Commission
reached the correct result. Windson argues that Granados was
properly denied benefits because he was not Windson’s
"employee," within the meaning of the workers’
compensation statutes. Windson contends that an illegal alien
cannot enter into an employment contract in the United States
and, thus, that Granados’ alleged contract of employment with
Windson was void and unenforceable.
In response, Granados argues that the
illegality of a contract does not bar the receipt of workers’
compensation benefits. He relies primarily on Humphrees v.
Boxley Bros. Co., 146 Va. 91, 108, 135 S.E. 890, 895 (1926),
in which this Court applied the provisions of the workers’
compensation statutes to a minor who was unlawfully employed at
the time he sustained a work-related injury. We disagree with
The determination whether Granados was
Windson’s "employee" depends on whether he met the
definition of "employee" set forth in the Virginia
Workers’ Compensation Act, Code Sects. 65.2-100 to -1310
(the Act). Virginia Beach Police Dept. v. Compton-Waldrop,
252 Va. 302, 305, 477 S.E.2d 514, 516 (1996). As a claimant
seeking benefits under the Act, Granados had the burden of
proving that he met this definition. See Behrensen v.
Whitaker, 10 Va. App. 364, 366, 392 S.E.2d 508, 509 (1990).
Code Sect. 65.2-101 defines, in material
part, an "[e]mployee" as "[e]very person,
including a minor, in the service of another under any contract
of hire." Granados was not in the service of Windson under
any contract of hire because, under the Immigration Reform and
Control Act of 1986, an illegal alien cannot be employed lawfully
in the United States. See 8 U.S.C. Sect. 1324a; see
also Code Sect. 40.1-11.1. Therefore, Granados was
not eligible to receive compensation benefits as an
"employee" under the Act because his purported contract
of hire was void and unenforceable.
We disagree with Granados’ argument that our
decision in Humphrees requires a different result. There,
we held that a minor was subject to the provisions of the
workers’ compensation statutes despite the fact that he was not
lawfully employed in conformance with the child labor laws. We
stressed that, since the principal object of the child labor laws
is the protection of the child, the workers compensation statutes
should be interpreted with due regard to the child’s care and
welfare. 146 Va. at 94-95, 135 S.E. at 891.
Those concerns are not present in this appeal.
Also, unlike the case before us, the employer in Humphrees
accepted the child for work without an employment certificate
required by statute. Here, the record shows that Windson was
diligent in obtaining from Granados the documentation required
under state and federal law to verify his immigration status and
eligibility for employment. Therefore, Windson’s conduct does not
provide a basis for reaching a different result in this case.
We find no merit in Granados’ argument that the
denial of workers’ compensation benefits violates his
constitutional right of equal protection. The denial of benefits
results from Granados’ failure to meet his burden of proving that
he was an "employee" under the Act, not from his status
as an illegal alien. Likewise, we find no merit in Granados’
contention that the deputy commissioner improperly denied him
discovery of Windson’s corporate records relating to all
employment applications made between 1990 and 1995, because those
records were irrelevant to Granados’ claim for benefits.
Since the Commission reached the correct
conclusion in denying benefits to Granados, although it gave the
wrong reason, we sustain that conclusion and assign the right
ground set forth above. See Harrison & Bates, Inc.
v. Featherstone Assoc., 253 Va. 364, 369, 484 S.E.2d 883, 886
(1997); First Sec. Fed. Sav. Bank, Inc. v. McQuilken, 253
Va. 110, 115, 480 S.E.2d 485, 488 (1997). Therefore, we will
affirm the Court of Appeals’ judgment.