In a case of first impression in New Jersey, an Appellate Division panel held Wednesday that defense counsel cannot ask the plaintiffs about their immigration status during discovery in a putative class action suit alleging an employer cheated its workers out of just compensation and overtime pay.

Nor can the plaintiffs be asked about whether they lied to their employer or made false statements, unless the defense can make a showing that those statements have a direct impact on their credibility in determining whether they are, in fact, eligible for back pay and overtime, the court said in Serrano and Vivar v. Underground Utilities Corp., A-0676-08.