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By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law
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.
By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law
An individual’s claim of document abuse by a company was dismissed by Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) because the company was abiding by E-Verify laws in declining a List B document without a photograph. See Johnson v. Progressive Roofing, 12 OCAHO no. 1295 (Jan. 2017).
Michael Johnson was hired by Progressive Roofing and thereafter presented his documents in the process of completing his I-9 form – voter registration card (List B document) and two List C documents- a birth certificate and a social security card. Progressive Roofing told Johnson that the documentation was insufficient because the voter registration card did not contain a photograph. Although unclear whether Progressive Roofing explained the insufficiency, the company was enrolled in E-Verify which requires a List B document, if presented, to contain a photograph. (Alternatively, an employee may present a List A document.)
Johnson filed a charge with the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) (since renamed the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section) alleging document abuse for the company’s failure to accept his List B and C documents. OSC dismissed the charge for insufficient evidence of a violation but advised him of the right to file his own complaint with OCAHO. Johnson did so, alleging the same violation. Thereafter, Progressive Roofing filed an Answer and Motion for Summary Decision asserting it did not violate the law because it was following E-Verify practices and procedures by requiring a List B document containing a photograph or List A be presented. Johnson did not respond to the company’s motion.
OCAHO explained document abuse occurs when an employer requests more or different documents than necessary or rejects valid documents and does so for the purpose of discriminating on the basis of citizenship status or national origin. Thus, document abuse takes two elements, an act and intent. It has not been a strict liability offense since the amendments to 8 U.S.C. §1324b(a)(b) in 1996.
OCAHO found Johnson did not establish a prime facie case of discrimination because Progressive Roofing was an enrolled participant in E-Verify, which requires any List B document presented to contain a photograph, and did not request more or different documents than required by law. Assuming arguendo, Johnson established a prime facie case, Progressive Roofing met its burden by showing it had a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for requesting a List B document with a photograph – to be in compliance with federal law. Finally, Johnson did not allege this defense was pretextual. Therefore, OCAHO dismissed Johnson’s complaint.
This decision reminds employers that the use of E-Verify requires following certain rules, including only accepting List B documents with a photograph. In rejecting Johnson’s List B document, Progressive Roofing was merely following the applicable law.
By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law
In one of its last decisions of 2016, the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) reduced the penalty of a restaurant from $96,398 to $58,850 for 107 violations. See U.S. v. Pegasus Family Restaurant, Inc.,12 OCAHO no. 1293 (Dec. 2016).
This case stated almost three years ago – in December 2013 – when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) served a Notice of Inspection (NOI) on Pegasus, a small restaurant in Hamburg, New York. Pegasus provided approximately 81 Form I-9s. Thereafter, ICE filed a Notice of Intent to Fine (NIF) alleging Pegasus failed to prepare and/or present 31 Form I-9s and failed to properly complete 76 Form I-9s - it failed to record any documents in section 2, only recorded a List B document, a driver’s license or state ID card, or failed to ensure the completion of Section 1 with a signature or attesting to the employee’s status, U.S. citizen, permanent resident, etc. Pegasus admitted liability on all the I-9 violations. Thus, the only issue before OCAHO was the amount of the penalty.
In seeking a penalty of $96,398, ICE used a baseline penalty of $935 per violation due to Pegasus having a violation rate of over 90%. ICE found Pegasus’s small size and the individuals in Count I as eligible for employment to be mitigating factors while the seriousness of the violations to be an aggravating factor. The remaining statutory factors of history of violations and good faith were considered neutral.
Pegasus asserts its lack of history of violations and no conclusive evidence that any of the employees were unauthorized to work were mitigating factors. Furthermore, it asserts the following non-statutory factors warrant mitigation – general public policy of leniency toward small businesses, company’s high turnover rate, its cooperation with ICE during the investigation, including enrollment in E-Verify, and its inability to pay the proposed penalty.
OCAHO agreed with Pegasus that the government failed to prove any of the employees were unauthorized to work. In an unusual finding, OCAHO stated this was a mitigation factor, rather than a neutral factor, although it recognized that it could have been accepted as a neutral factor. However, OCAHO declined to find the lack of a history of I-9 violations as a mitigating factor.
Concerning its inability to pay, OCAHO found it failed to show it could not pay the penalty, but found the proposed penalty was “unduly punitive.” Thus, OCAHO considered the company’s financial situation.
Although OCAHO found an employer’s post – inspection remedial measures may support mitigation, it declined to final such in this case. Furthermore, it declined to view a high turnover rate as a mitigating factor.
In conclusion, OCAHO found the penalty should be reduced from between $888 and $935 per violation to $550 per violation. Thus, this total penalty was $58,850. As the facts demonstrate, if Pegasus would have performed an internal I-9 audit before ICE arrived with the NOI, many of the I-9 violations could have been corrected and not subject to a penalty.
By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law
Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) found it did not have jurisdiction concerning alleging allegations of national origin discrimination and retaliation against a U.S. Army captain. See Windsor v. Captain Landeen, 12 OCAHO no. 1294 (Dec. 2016).
Washington Younggil Kim Jung Windsor (“Windsor”) sought employment as a recruiter at the U.S. Army Recruiting Command in New York. Windsor was not hired and alleged in a charge with the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) that it was because he is from South Korea. (At this time, Widsor was a lawful permanent resident. He later became a U. S. citizen).
The OSC dismissed Windsor’s charge because it determined it did not have jurisdiction over the U.S. Army. However, the OSC told Windsor that he could pursue a complaint with OCAHO against the U.S. Army and Captain Landeen. Thereafter, Windsor filed a complaint before OCAHO alleging the same facts as he did in his charge with the OSC.
OCAHO initially determined that despite the complaint being filed against Captain Landeen, it alleged acts of Captain Landeen in his official capacity with U.S. Army. Thus, it reviewed whether a complaint can be brought against the U.S. Army under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
OCAHO found the U.S. Army was a part of the U.S. Department of Defense, a federal agency. Based upon that finding, it determined “absent a waiver, sovereign immunity shields the Federal Government and its agencies from suit.” OCAHO found no such waiver existed under the INA. Thus, it followed OCAHO caselaw which has held “federal government agencies are not amenable to suit under 8 U.S.C. § 1324b” (cases alleging discrimination due to citizenship status, national origin, retaliation or document abuse). Based upon this analysis, OCAHO dismissed Windsor’s complaint.
By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law
Despite reaching a Settlement Agreement with Discover Financial Services, wherein the Complainant, was paid over $73,000, Ashntosh Sharma filed a charge with the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) alleging he was discriminated against because he is a lawful permanent resident (LPR). OSC declined to proceed with a complaint. Sharma then submitted his claim to the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO), which dismissed his complaint because he had previously reached a Settlement Agreement, Waiver, and Release of Claims. See Sharma v. Discover Financial Services, LLC, 12 OCAHO no. 1292 (Dec. 2016)
Sharma was employed by Discover for a period of time during which he alleged Discover favored H-1B visa holders over U.S. citizens or LPRs in training opportunities and promotions. Sharma applied for five job openings and two training opportunities but did not receive any of them. In October 2014 and January 2015, Sharma filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging discrimination and retaliation. After filing the charges, Sharma hired an attorney to negotiate a settlement. On May 29, 2015, Sharma and Discover reached an agreement where Discover paid Sharma over $73,000 and Sharma agreed to withdraw his EEOC charge and waive and release Discover from any other claims or liability.
Before reaching this settlement, Sharma filed a charge with the OSC on March 15, 2015. After the settlement, Sharma filed a Complaint with OCAHO on April 27, 2016 alleging citizenship status discrimination and retaliation.
Discover responded that Sharma’s claims overlapped with his EEOC complaint and the claims before OCAHO were released and waived by Sharma through the May 29 settlement and release. The Settlement Agreement, Waiver, and Release of Claims states the parties are settling “any and all claims that have been or could have been asserted by Sharma related to his employment with Discover and end any and all employment relationships between them.” Although the Settlement Agreement, Waiver and Release does not specifically list claims under 8 U.S.C. § 1324b (citizenship status discrimination, etc.), OCAHO quoted caselaw finding a party need not enumerate the specific claims an employee is waiving in a general release. Furthermore, Sharma was clearly aware of any claims under 8 U.S.C. § 1324b when he signed the Settlement Agreement as the alleged acts began as early as June 2014 and were set forth in his March 2015 OSC charge. Thus, OCAHO found the release covered any claims brought under 8 U.S.C. § 1324b. OCAHO also found the Settlement Agreement, Waiver and Release was knowing and voluntary given Sharma’s education and that he hired an attorney to negotiate the settlement. Furthermore, Sharma did not even challenge the knowing and voluntary nature of the release.
For these reasons, OCAHO dismissed Sharma’s complaint. The question in my mind is why would Sharma pursue a claim before OCAHO when he clearly had released Discover for any further liability. It should be noted Sharma did not have legal counsel before OCAHO, presumably because counsel who negotiated the Settlement Agreement, Waiver and Release informed him that he lacked the basis of any further claims or liability against Discover.