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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. IER Settles Immigration-Related Discrimination Claim Against Panda Express

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC

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    The Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department announced it reached a settlement agreement with Panda Restaurant Group, Inc. (Panda Express), a restaurant chain with over 1,800 locations in the United States. The agreement resolves an investigation into whether Panda Express discriminated against non-U.S. citizens in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) when reverifying their authorization to work.

    The investigation concluded Panda Express unnecessarily required lawful permanent resident workers to re-establish their work authorization when their Permanent Resident Cards (green cards) expired, while not making similar requests to U.S. citizen workers when their documents expired. The investigation also revealed that Panda Express routinely required other non-U.S. citizen workers to produce immigration documents to reverify their ongoing work authorization despite evidence they had already provided sufficient documentation. The antidiscrimination provision of the INA prohibits such requests for documents when based on an employee’s citizenship status or national origin.

    Under the settlement, Panda Express will pay a civil penalty of $400,000 to the United States, establish a $200,000 back pay fund to compensate workers who lost wages due to the company’s practices, undergo IER-provided training to HR employees on the anti-discrimination provision of the INA, revise employment policies, modify its electronic I-9 system, train HR personnel on the M-274 Handbook for Employers and the USCIS E-Verify manual, and comply with departmental monitoring and reporting requirements for three years.

    This settlement is the largest to date in calendar year 2017. Employers should be trained by immigration counsel on a regular basis of immigration compliance issues.
  2. IER Settles Discrimination Claims Against Carrillo Farm

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC

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    The Immigration and Employee Rights Section (IER) of the Department of Justice reached a settlement agreement with Carrillo Farm Labor, LLC, an onion farm in Deming, New Mexico, resolving an investigation of complaints that Carrillo Farm discriminated against U.S. citizens due to a hiring preference for foreign visa workers. This settlement is part of a Department of Justice enforcement initiative dedicated to combatting employment discrimination against U.S. workers.

    After investigating complaints filed on behalf of two U.S. citizens, IER determined that Carrillo Farm denied U.S. citizens employment in 2016 because it wanted to hire temporary foreign workers under the H-2A visa program. Under the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), it is unlawful for employers to intentionally discriminate against U.S. citizens because of their citizenship status.

    The settlement agreement requires Carrillo Farm to pay a civil penalty of $5000 to the United States, undergo IER-provided training on the anti-discrimination provision of the INA, and comply with departmental monitoring and reporting requirements for two years. In a separate agreement with workers represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Carrillo Farm agreed to pay a total of $44,000 in lost wages to affected U.S. workers.

    This is an interesting twist on discrimination – finding an employer discriminated against U.S. citizens. This settlement fits in well with DOJ’s recent announcement warning employers not to discriminate against U.S. citizens.
  3. Fruit and Vegetable Processor Agrees to Pay $225,000 to Settle Discrimination Lawsuit

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC

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    Washington Potato Company and Pasco Processing, LLC and the Justice Department’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) of the Civil Rights Division, have reached a settlement agreement, whereby the companies agreed to pay over $225,000 to resolve a discrimination lawsuit filed by IER in November 2016. The complaint alleged Washington Potato directed and controlled Pasco Processing’s hiring practices, including the alleged discriminatory documentary practices, which violated the antidiscrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

    According to the November 2016 complaint, filed with the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO), from at least November 2013 until at least October 2016, Washington Potato and Pasco Processing routinely requested lawful permanent residents (LPRs) hired at Pasco Processing produce a specific document – a Permanent Resident Card (also referred to as a Green Card) – to prove their work authorization, while not requesting a specific document from U.S. citizens (USCs). From November 2013 until October 2016, the complaint alleged the companies hired over 2,000 USCs and approximately 800 LPRs. Of the LPRs hired, 99.5% produced a List A document – their green card - to establish their work authorization while only 2% of the USCs hired produced a List A document, such as a U.S. passport or U.S. passport card.

    Prior to the settlement, the companies asserted the high rate of List A documents for LPRs was because these employees did not possess List B or C documents. However, the government alleged many LPR employees presented List B and C documents but the companies requested non-U.S. citizen employees provide a specific document, a green card, for completion of the I-9 Form while it allowed USCs the flexibility to present a variety of documents.

    Under the settlement agreement, Washington Potato Company and Pasco Processing are required to pay civil penalties of $225,750, revise policies to eliminate any discrimination in the I-9 form and E-Verify procedures, post notices informing workers about their rights under the INA’s antidiscrimination provision, train their human resources personnel on the requirements of the INA’s anti-discrimination provision, and be subject to departmental monitoring and reporting requirements for two and one-half years.

    This is another example of the hefty civil penalties imposed by the IER, formerly known as the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC). In this case, it appears the companies decided not to litigate the complaint even though prior negotiations before the issuance of a complaint had been unsuccessful. Although the IER is a much smaller agency than Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), often settlement of their cases involves substantial civil penalties and/or back pay. Thus, it is important that companies understand the antidiscrimination provision of the INA in order that they not face this liability. I recommend regular training on the antidiscrimination provision of the INA by immigration counsel.
  4. OSC Settles Immigration-Related Discrimination Claim Against J.E.T. Holding

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    The Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) (just renamed the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice) reached a settlement to resolve claims that J.E.T. Holding Co. Inc. discriminated against U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and certain work-authorized immigrants in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). J.E.T. is a company based in Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), where it operates a restaurant, bowling alley and amusement center.

    The investigation found evidence that for approximately the first five months of 2016, J.E.T. engaged in a pattern or practice of refusing to hire U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and other work-authorized individuals for several dishwasher positions. OSC concluded that J.E.T. failed to consider qualified U.S. citizen applicants and others based on their citizenship or immigration status because of a preference for hiring non-immigrant foreign workers with CW-1 visas. The CW-1 visa grants temporary work authorization to its beneficiaries and is only available in the CNMI.

    Under the terms of the settlement, J.E.T. will pay a civil penalty of $12,000, establish a backpay fund of $40,000 to compensate qualified claimants for any lost wages through a claims process, train its workers on the anti-discrimination provision of the INA, and be subject to department monitoring.
  5. Consulting Firm Settles with DOL Concerning H-1B Workers

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    U.S. Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge Larry S. Merck approved a settlement between consulting firm, Indus Group Inc., and the administrator of the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, under which Indus will pay $214,785 in back wages to three H-1B computer programmer workers. Of the three employees, one is being paid $106,860 and the others - $57,760 and $50,160. The company has also agreed to pay $9,120 in penalties.

    According to the consent findings, the administrator found that in addition to owing back wages to the H-1B employees, the company did not cooperate in the investigation. However, Indus has now agreed to pay to pay the back wages as a “good faith resolution” of the dispute, according to the settlement.
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