Neehaar Gandhi

Two migrant workers awaiting workers’ compensation from their boss-landlord must pack their bags by the end of the month, according to a Tuesday ruling from the Connecticut Superior Court. The decision came after an earlier attempt to evict the workers in January was blocked by the same judge. 

Edgar Becerra and Josue Mauricio Arana, migrant workers from Guatemala, allege that the eviction is retaliation for workers’ compensation claims the two filed against their employer, MDF Painting & Power Washing, last year after they suffered incapacitating workplace injuries. Mark DeFrancesco, the founder of MDF and co-owner of the building where Becerra and Arana have been living since July — 200 Peck St. —— disputes their claims. The Hartford, MDF’s insurer, is challenging the workers’ compensation claims.  

On his second attempt, DeFrancesco sent Becerra and Arana an eviction notice on the legal grounds of “right or privilege terminated,” an approach suggested by Judge Walter Spader in his rejection of the first eviction. Spader ruled that the workers will be given until April 30 to vacate the residence, 12 days short of the original May 12 date proposed by DeFrancesco’s attorney. The proposed date was meant to accommodate Becerra’s May 8 workers’ compensation hearing. 

Becerra said that Spader’s decision to choose an earlier eviction date was “humiliating” and “immoral.”

“I suffered a lot on [Tuesday] afternoon and I just wanted to lock myself up in my room,” Becerra told the News in Spanish. “I’m very sad, I’m not going to deny it. Sad and disappointed with what I have experienced so far on North American soil.”

In October, Becerra filed for a workers’ compensation claim after workplace falls from a 32-foot ladder and a two-story window left him with lower spine injuries. He claims that MDF did not provide workers with safety training or equipment and subjected workers to inhuman living and working conditions

On March 12, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration penalized MDF for failing to log work-related injuries or illnesses for the past five years and for failing to record a workplace injury on or around Sept. 12, the same date Becerra said he fell from the two-story window. OSHA originally imposed a $1,452 fine on MDF and reduced it to $750 in an informal settlement. 

The OSHA inspection remains open, and John Lugo, the community organizing director of Unidad Latina en Acción, an advocacy group for immigrant workers also called ULA, said that larger fines could be levied against MDF as long as the investigation remains open. Members of ULA staged a rally in support of Becerra and Arana outside the Superior Court before the trial on Tuesday. 

Joshua Brown, DeFrancesco’s legal representative in Tuesday’s trial, did not respond to requests for comment. 

“The court refused to hold [DeFrancesco] accountable for his actions,” Tyrese Ford, Becerra’s housing court attorney, said. “I think [DeFrancesco] wanted [Becerra] to simply go away and go back to Guatemala and avoid paying him for being injured on the job, and I think that’s exactly what he achieved. This decision essentially enabled bad behavior and an incredible injustice has occurred.”

The first eviction claim rested on the fact that Becerra and Arana had not paid for rent since October, violating their oral lease. Spader ruled that MDF had not proven the existence and terms of a week-to-week oral lease, allowing the workers to stay at 200 Peck St. 

However, Spader, in his February decision, noted that MDF could file another eviction claim under “right or privilege terminated,” the legal grounds for which Spader approved the eviction on Tuesday. 

“In the prior action, this Court found that there was no agreement between the parties and ruled for the Defendants,” Spader said in his oral decision. “There has been nothing since the prior action that has re-established the Defendants’ right to occupy the premises.” 

Ford unsuccessfully argued that the eviction was invalid because it was retaliatory. He said that DeFrancesco evicted Becerra and Arana after the two called the New Haven Police Department when they were allegedly locked out of the residence in October. Becerra told the News in February that the two were forced to sleep outside the house for two nights and had not yet received the formal eviction notice. 

During the trial, property manager Johnny Armijos said that even though he changed the house’s codes, there were two unlocked doors to the house and he shared the code with both Becerra and Arana. Armijos’ testimony was not presented in the first trial, though Becerra later disputed the property manager’s claim, according to the New Haven Independent.  

Spader ruled that Ford had failed to prove retaliation occurred. 

Inside the housing court, tensions were palpable between the two parties. During Becerra’s testimony, Lisa Hollingsworth, DeFrancesco’s sister and an MDF administrator, frequently shook her head and mouthed words as several members of ULA sat in the audience. Becerra paused his testimony to ask the judge, with the help of an interpreter, to tell Brown and DeFrancesco to show him “more respect” with their facial expressions. 

Ford said depending on fundraising efforts, he was considering appealing the Superior Court’s decision. 

As one of DeFrancesco and Becerra’s legal disputes nears its end, MDF has submitted another job order to the Department of Labor for “painting helpers” for the coming months, according to the New Haven Independent

MDF offices are located at 100 N Branford Rd. in Branford, Connecticut, where ULA has led several protests in recent months. 

Laura Ospina covers Yale-New Haven relations and the Latine community for the City desk. Originally from North Carolina's Research Triangle, she is a sophomore in Branford College majoring in Political Science.