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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

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  1. OCAHO Decides Who and What is Protected from Document Abuse

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC
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    The Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) issued another decision on “document abuse”, which has been renamed “unfair documentary practices”, finding the employer did not commit document abuse against the Charging Party, Doris Rainwater. Rainwater v. Doctor’s Hospice of Georgia, Inc., 12 OCAHO no. 1300 (Apr. 2017).

    Facts

    Ms. Rainwater was employed as a certified nursing assistant at Doctor’s Hospice for several years. At that time, she was a lawful permanent resident (LPR). In November 2013, Doctor’s Hospice conducted an annual review of its employees’ personnel files to ensure none of its employee documentation, such as certifications, had expired. In this review, the Administrator discovered Ms. Rainwater’s LPR card had expired. Thereafter, Ms. Rainwater was informed she was suspended until she could present a valid LPR card.

    Ms. Rainwater contacted the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practice (OSC) (now renamed Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) of the Department of Justice), who informed her that Doctor’s Hospice’s action was discriminatory. OSC called Doctor’s Hospice and explained even if a LPR card expires, the individual’s LPR status has not ended. During the suspension, Ms. Rainwater told her supervisor, Ms. Charleston, that she had called the Department of Justice. Ms. Charleston reiterated she could not work with an expired LPR card. (It’s unclear whether this conversation occurred before or after OSC’s call to Doctor’s Hospice). Doctor’s Hospice’s Director of Nursing said she received a phone call from the Department of Justice, who said LPR cards never expire. Several days later, Ms. Rainwater was reinstated, but without back pay for the two weeks off.

    When Ms. Rainwater returned to work, she said most of the managers did not speak to her. One manager, Ms. West, allegedly stated the facility had the “best lawyer” and “nobody beat or play with my lawyers.” She also allegedly said “you should have talked to me about his prior to going to the Department of Justice to complain about these things.”

    On January 8, during an ice storm, a pipe burst at this facility causing a shutdown and the layoff of all employees. On February 27, the facility reopened but it was not fully occupied with patients; thus, two employees were not rehired - Ms. Rainwater and one other employee. Doctor’s Hospice asserted Ms. Rainwater was one of the two employees not rehired because of her poor work record and performance. Thereafter, Ms. Rainwater filed a charge with OSC alleging her failure to be rehired was retaliation and the original suspension was also unlawful.

    Suspension Claim

    OCAHO found Ms. Rainwater’s suspension claim failed because the statute only “prohibits an employer from discriminating with respect to hiring, recruitment, referral or discharge.” The statute does not cover certain employment actions, such as suspension, compensation, or shift assignments.

    However, Doctor’s Hospice’s actions in requesting an unexpired LPR card from Ms. Rainwater was determined to be an act of document abuse under 8 U.S.C. §1324b(a)(6). However, Ms. Rainwater is not a protected individual under that section because she was not a recent permanent resident. Ms. Rainwater had been a LPR for almost 10 years. To be covered, individuals must have not held LPR status for no longer than six months beyond becoming eligible to naturalize. Ms. Rainwater became eligible to naturalize approximately five years before the request for an unexpired LPR card.

    Failure to be Rehired Claim

    Concerning the failure to rehire Ms. Rainwater to work when the facility reopened, OCAHO found Ms. Rainwater’s evidence did not support her retaliation claim. Initially, OCAHO noted that even though she was not considered a protected individual for the document abuse claim, OCAHO retained jurisdiction over her retaliation claim. Specifically, Ms. Rainwater engaged in protected conduct when she contacted OSC about her suspension due to an expired LPR card. Furthermore, Doctor’s Hospice knew of the contact through Ms. Rainwater telling Doctor’s Hospice and a telephone call from OSC explaining that LPR cards do not expire.

    OCAHO concluded Ms. Rainwater failed to establish a causal link between her protected conduct and the failure to be rehired. Although the time period between the telephone call to OSC and the termination was less than three months, OCAHO found intervening events – the ice storm, closure of the facility, and subsequent reopening of the facility with less than full capacity - broke the claim of causality in the retaliation claim. OCAHO said these events caused the end of Ms. Rainwater’s employment, not retaliation. Furthermore, the fact that Doctor’s Hospice returned Ms. Rainwater to work in December after the phone call to OSC undercut her assertion of a causal link between contacting OSC and her failure to be rehired. Finally, OCAHO found Doctor’s Hospice comments about Ms. Rainwater’s contact with OSC were not sufficient to establish the causal link. Thus, OCAHO dismissed Ms. Rainwater’s retaliation claim.

    This decision is a firm reminder of who is covered and what is covered by Section 1324b cases. Often, employers are so focused on complying with the I-9 requirements, they inadvertently commit citizenship status discrimination under Section 1324b. One idea to combat this problem is to have an immigration compliance attorney conduct a training session on immigration compliance.

  2. Employer’s Argument for Electronic Signature Fails

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    In U.S. v. Agri-Systems (ASI), 12 OCAHO no. 1301 (Apr. 2017), the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) found ASI’s argument, that typing in the company name in Section 2 of an I-9 form equaled an electronic signature, was “spirited but contrary to both law and evidence.” However, OCAHO agreed with ASI that a question of whether 23 Form I-9s were timely presented to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a factual dispute, which cannot be decided without a hearing where witnesses will testify concerning the delivery or non-delivery of those I-9 forms.

    This case started almost six years ago with the service of a Notice of Inspection (NOI) by ICE. Thereafter, ASI delivered 159 Form I-9s to ICE. Two years later, ICE served a Notice of Suspect Documents (NSD), Notice of Discrepancies, and Notice of Technical Errors on ASI. As a result, ASI terminated the 46 employees on the NSD and 22 of the 28 employees on the Notice of Discrepancies plus it provided new I-9 forms on the other six employees listed in the Notice of Discrepancies.

    Two and one-half years later, ICE issued a Notice of Intent to Fine (NIF) alleging in Count I – ASI failed to present 23 Form I-9s and failed to prepare five Form I-9s – and Count II – 82 instances of ASI’s failure to ensure Section I was properly completed or failed to properly complete Sections 2 or 3. As a result, ICE sought a penalty of $103,645 for the 110 alleged violations.

    Many of the Section 2 allegations concerned whether an “electronic” signature was utilized by ASI to sign the certification in Section 2. ASI asserted its “signature” was through the use of “word processing” that “efficiently demonstrates the attestation was read as it comes immediately below the attestation itself.” However, what ASI referred to as a signature was in actuality the typed company name and address on some of the I-9 forms.

    OCAHO found ASI’s action did not equal a signature on a paper I-9 form or an electronic I-9 form. ASI conceded it did not use electronic I-9 forms but argued the typing of its name equaled an electronic signature. OCAHO found this assertion was contrary to both law and evidence. As OCAHO stated: “The relevant statute requires a signature in the attestation in Section 2, and merely pre-printing or typing the company’s name is not the equivalent of a signature.” And without a signature, OCAHO stated “the mandated attestation is patently not complete.”

    ASI also argued it did not violate the law concerning many of the allegations because it timely presented 23 Form I-9s, which ICE denied receipt of. Each party presented affidavits, which were in conflict. ASI officials said they mailed the I-9 forms in dispute and the ICE agent denied receipt. Based on a clear dispute on the factual allegations, OCAHO stated it would set the matter for a hearing, where each party could present their witnesses. (This will be a very rare occasion for live testimony in an OCAHO case.)

    OCAHO determined ASI committed 87 of the 110 allegations. However, because 23 allegations were still in dispute, it declined to find the appropriate penalty until after a decision is rendered on the 23 allegations.
  3. OCAHO Decides Who is Protected from Document Abuse

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    The Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) issued an interesting decision involving “document abuse” which was recently renamed “unfair documentary practices” in the new regulations. U.S. v. Mar-Jac Poultry, Inc., 12 OCAHO no. 1298 (March 2017). It was a split decision with the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for OCAHO finding Mar-Jac Poultry committed many document abuse violations while other allegations were not document abuse.

    The case started with a charge filed by Edwin Morales, a TPS recipient, with the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practice (OSC) alleging document abuse. Thereafter, OSC informed Mar-Jac that it was expanding its investigation to include “a possible pattern or practice of document abuse against non-U.S. citizens.”

    Based on its investigation, the OSC filed a complaint with OCAHO alleging in Count I – Mar-Jac committed document abuse against Morales and “other similarly situated persons” and Count II – Mar-Jac engaged in a “pattern or practice of discrimination in the hiring and Employment Eligibility Verification Process.”

    In its Motion for Summary Judgment, Mar-Jac argued the statute only prohibits document abuse as it relates to protected individuals - U.S. citizens (USCs), recent lawful permanent residents (LPRs), refugees and asylees. Since Morales was a TPS recipient with an Employment Authorization card (EAD), Mar-Jac argued he was not protected regarding the document abuse allegations. The ALJ determined that “claims of document abuse with an intent or purpose of discriminating against an individual based on citizenship status is limited to claims against statutorily-defined protected individuals as defined in 8 U.S.C. § 1324b(a)(6).” Since Morales was on TPS, the ALJ agreed with Mar-Jac’s defense that Morales was not a protected individual.

    Concerning Count II – whether Mar-Jac engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination, Mar-Jac conceded its HR employees required potential applicants to present a photo ID and a Social Security card in order to obtain an employment application. Without such, Mar-Jac did not provide them with an application.

    Also, if a person checked a box on Section 1 of the I-9 form as a LPR or authorized to work and presented Lists B and C documents, such as a driver’s license and Social Security card, respectively, the Mar-Jac HR employee would request the LPR card or EAD. Mar-Jac’s witnesses stated this request was made to make sure the card was valid and they believed E-Verify required non-USCs to present their LPR card or EAD. The witnesses acknowledged they were mistaken in their beliefs. Mar-Jac conceded USCs were not requested to present a particular document.

    Mar-Jac argued it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason, to verify the correct box was marked in Section 1, when its HR employees asked non-USCs to see their List A document – LPR card or EAD. Mar-Jac asserted it followed this practice in order to have Sections 1 and 2 accurately completed and to avoid non-compliance with the completion of the I-9 form, which could cause civil and criminal liability. Mar-Jac also argued it required non-USCs to present a List A document because of a mistaken belief that E-Verify required it; thus, it had no discriminatory intent. Furthermore, Mar-Jac asserted requests related to E-Verify are not covered by 8 U.S.C. § 1324b; thus, no violations should be found.

    To establish a case of document abuse, the decision stated a complainant must show (1) “that, in connection with the employment verification process required by 8 U.S.C. § 1324a(b), an employer has requested from the employee more or different documents than those required or has rejected otherwise acceptable valid documents and (2) that either of these actions was undertaken for the purpose or with the intent of discriminating against the employee on account of the employee’s national origin or citizenship status.”

    One of the issues in the case was the requisite intent required to prove the violations. The OSC asserted U.S. v. Life Generations, a 2014 OCAHO decision, stated an intent to discriminate means that a person “would have acted differently but for the protected characteristic.” Mar-Jac argued it had no intent to discriminate because a significant portion of its workforce were non-USCs. Furthermore, their actions were merely designed to “assist the applicant in satisfying the requirements of the Form I-9.” The ALJ stated discriminatory intent does not require “malice, ill will, or a malevolent nature.” Thus, Mar-Jac’s arguments were without merit.

    The ALJ concluded the testimony of Mar-Jac’s HR employees established direct evidence of discriminatory intent – the requests to see a DHS-issued document, LPR card or EAD, was motivated by the individual’s LPR or work-authorized status. Thus, the ALJ found the company “engaged in prohibited documentary practices by virtue of both specifying the kind of document that a new hire had to present, and requesting an additional document when a new hire sufficiently presented Lists B and C documents. Moreover, Mar-Jac’s documentary practices were carried out for the purposes of satisfying employment verification requirements of 8 U.S.C. § 1324a(b).”

    As for Mar-Jac’s remaining defense that it completed Section 1 as the preparer/translator and thus it needed to verify the information listed to avoid civil and criminal liability, the ALJ stated, “Although the preparer/translator attestation in Section 1 requires an attestation that the information contained therein is true and correct to the best of the preparer/translator’s knowledge, that standard does not require absolute metaphysical certainty – or even actual knowledge – regarding the information from the preparer/translator and in no way requires an employer to ask to see a document to verify the information.”

    Therefore, the OCAHO ALJ found Mar-Jac committed the violations alleged in Count II. A determination on the civil penalties and back pay were left for a later time. Furthermore, Mar-Jac has the right to appeal the ALJ’s decision to the Chief Judge of OCAHO.

    This decision shows employees can be mistaken on the proper manner to complete the I-9 form. Therefore, it is crucial that employers obtain regular training from immigration counsel on immigration compliance issues.
  4. 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.
  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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