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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. IER Settles Immigration-Related Discrimination Claim Against Florida Company

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law
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    The Justice Department’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER), formerly known as the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, reached an agreement with Brickell Financial Services Motor Club, Inc., d/b/a Road America Motor Club, Inc. (Road America), headquartered in Miami, Florida. The settlement resolves the IER’s investigation into whether the company violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) by discriminating against work-authorized immigrants when verifying their work authorization.

    The IER concluded, based on its investigation, that Road America routinely requested that lawful permanent residents show their Permanent Resident Cards to prove their work authorization but did not request specific documents from U.S. citizens. The investigation further revealed that Road America required lawful permanent resident employees to re-establish their work authorization when their Permanent Resident Cards expired, even though federal rules prohibit this practice. The antidiscrimination provision of the INA prohibits employers from subjecting employees to unnecessary documentary demands based on the employees’ citizenship or national origin.

    Under the settlement, Road America will pay a civil penalty of $34,200 and pay $1,044 to compensate a worker who lost wages due to its unfair documentary practices. Road America has also agreed to post notices informing workers about their rights under the INA’s antidiscrimination provision, train their human resources personnel, and be subject to departmental monitoring and reporting requirements.

    Unfortunately, the errors made by Road America are common among many employers. A good immigration training program could avoid these mistakes.
  2. ICE’s Failure to Establish Hire and Termination Dates Leads to Dismissal of Some Claims

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    Although the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) found Metropolitan Enterprises committed 189 violations and were fined $151,200, it could have been worse as OCAHO dismissed 20 allegations for the failure of ICE to establish employment during the audited period. U.S. v. Metropolitan Enterprises, Inc., 12 OCAHO no. 1297 (March 2017).

    The case started in the usual way with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) serving a Notice of Inspection (NOI), seeking I-9 forms for current and terminated employees for a two-year period. Nine months later, ICE issued a Notice of Intent to Fine with Count I alleging 156 violations for various errors in completion of the I-9 forms – no employee signature, no employer signature, blank section 2, and no status box checked, and Count II – failure to prepare/present 53 Form I-9s.

    ICE sought a penalty of $195,649 based upon a baseline penalty of $935 (over 50% of the I-9 forms were in error). It aggravated the penalty by 5% for the seriousness of the violation and mitigated the penalty by 5% for good faith. ICE also alleged five employees were undocumented and aggravated by 5% for those 5 Form I-9s.

    Although ICE proffered a company payroll register for the two-year period of the NOI, this document did not provide hiring and termination dates. Without such, it is impossible to determine whether Metropolitan was required to retain the I-9 forms of the terminated employees, (Remember if the employee has worked there for over three years, an employer is only required to retain the I-9 form for a year from termination). The ALJ stated “mind reading is not an accepted tool of judicial inquiry.” Despite this shortcoming, OCAHO could discern the applicable dates for 189 employees out of the 209 employees.

    However, OCAHO could not discern the hiring and termination dates of 20 employees; therefore, it could not determine whether Metropolitan was required under the law to retain their I-9 forms. Based on this, OCAHO dismissed 20 of the allegations.

    Concerning the mitigation of the penalties, OCAHO did not find good faith based upon “wide spread, fundamental errors, which as a whole, have undermined the purpose of the employment verification system.” Furthermore, OCAHO declined to find five employees were undocumented because the ICE auditor did not identify the databases that he searched nor provided any details regarding how he conducted the searches.

    OCAHO concluded the penalties proposed by ICE “while arguably defensible, are slightly disproportionate to the overall extent of the violations.” Thus, OCAHO set the penalties at $800 per violation rather than $935 per violation.

    This decision was interesting because it detailed ICE’s failure to provide the appropriate facts to established some of the allegations and OCAHO’s astonishment that ICE considered Metropolitan’s conduct would warrant good faith mitigation.
  3. Pizzerias, LLC Pays $140,000 to Settle Immigration-Related Discrimination Claim

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    The Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has reached a settlement agreement with Pizzerias, LLC, a pizza restaurant franchisee with 31 locations in Miami, Florida, where Pizzerias will pay a $140,000 civil penalty. The agreement resolves the IER’s investigation into whether Pizzerias violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) by discriminating against work-authorized immigrants when checking their work authorization documents.

    The investigation concluded Pizzerias routinely requested that lawful permanent residents produce a specific document – a Permanent Resident Card (green card) – to prove their work authorization, while not requesting a specific document from U.S. citizens. This is referred to as document abuse. Lawful permanent residents may choose acceptable documents other than a Permanent Resident Card to prove they are authorized to work. The antidiscrimination provision of the INA prohibits employers from subjecting employees to unnecessary documentary demands based on citizenship or national origin.

    Under the settlement, Pizzerias must pay a civil penalty of $140,000 to the United States, post notices informing workers about their rights under the INA’s antidiscrimination provision, train their human resources personnel, and be subject to departmental monitoring and reporting requirements for two years.

    The first two settlements by IER in Trump administration seem to reflect that the IER will continue to aggressively pursue employers that violated the INA.
  4. IER Settles Immigration-Related Discrimination Claim Against Levy Restaurants

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    The Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER), formerly known as the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, reached a settlement agreement with Levy Premium Foodservice Limited Partnership d/b/a Levy Restaurants. The settlement resolves the investigation of a charge filed by the charging party, a lawful permanent resident, against Levy’s Barclay Center restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, alleging discrimination in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

    The IER concluded that Levy discriminated against two lawful permanent residents by improperly reverifying their employment eligibility because of their immigration status. It also determined that Levy improperly required them to present specific types of documents to re-establish their employment eligibility and suspended the charging party when he was unable to present such a document.

    The anti-discrimination provision of the INA prohibits employers from subjecting employees to unnecessary documentary demands based on the employee’s citizenship, immigration status or national origin.

    Levy cooperated throughout the investigation, quickly reinstated the charging party, and restored his lost wages and leave benefits. Under the settlement, Levy must pay a civil penalty of $2,500 to the United States, undergo IER-provided training on the anti-discrimination provision of the INA, and be subject for one year to IER monitoring and reporting requirements – providing the I-9 forms of all non-U.S. employees hired during this period of time to IER for review as to whether Levy Restaurants is abiding by the law.

    This settlement demonstrates the need for employers to be careful as to the presentation of documentation by employees. Employers may not demand the presentation of certain documents, such as a green card. Rather, it is up to each individual employee to choose document(s) that are listed on the List of Acceptable documents.
  5. OCAHO States Good Faith Does Not Warrant 25% Mitigation

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    In another decision involving a small restaurant in Hamburg, the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) reduced the restaurant’s penalty from $46,657 to $33,725 for four violations of failing to prepare and/or present I-9 forms and 67 violations for failing to properly complete I-9 forms. See U.S. v. 3679 Commerce Place, Inc. d/b/a Waterstone Grill, 12 OCAHO no.1296 (2017).

    Since Waterstone Grill admitted liability, the only issue before OCAHO was the amount of the penalties. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) used $935 as the baseline penalty per violation based on a violation rate of over 50%. In an unusual twist, ICE found a 25% mitigation was warranted based upon the restaurant’s good faith in preparing the I-9 Forms. Normally, the five statutory factors, including good faith, are worth the 5% mitigation or aggravation. ICE also mitigated by 5% each due to the restaurant’s small size and the 67 employees in Court II were determined to be eligible for employment. ICE aggravated by 5% for the seriousness of the violations.

    Waterstone Grill asserted it deserved mitigation for three of the four employees in Count I because they were authorized to work and several non-statutory factors, including general public policy of leniency toward small businesses, its cooperation with ICE during the investigation, including enrolling in E-Verify, and its inability to pay the $47,000 penalty.

    OCAHO found 25% mitigation for good faith was unwarranted, especially where ICE offered no explanation for the size of the mitigation. However, some mitigation, which was not defined, was warranted. Concerning its inability to pay, OCAHO found it failed to show it could not pay the penalty, but found the proposed penalty should be viewed in light of the company’s financial situation. Although OCAHO found an employer’s post-inspection remedial measures may support mitigation, it declined to find such here.

    OCAHO found ICE failed to prove the employees in Count I were unauthorized to work. OCAHO stated “it does not always follow that a factor found not to be aggravating (which is normally where the factor of unauthorized workers is found) must necessarily and automatically be mitigating.” However, in this case, OCAHO decided this was a mitigating factor.

    OCAHO determined the proposal penalty should be reduced to $475 each for a total penalty of $33,725. As the facts demonstrate, if Waterstone would have performed an internal I-9 audit before ICE arrived with the NOI, most of the I-9 violations could have been corrected and not subject to a penalty.
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