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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

OCAHO Finds State Employer Had Sovereign Immunity

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By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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In Ugochi v. North Dakota Dept. of Human Service, 12 OCAHO no. 1304 (July 2017), the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) dismissed Chiaha Ugochi’s complaint that she was discriminated because of her citizenship status and national origin, the employer retaliated against her and committed document abuse.

The case began with Ugochi filing a charge against her employer, North Dakota State Hospital, alleging it discriminated against her. Immigrant and Employer Rights Section of the Department of Justice dismissed her case due to insufficient evidence of discrimination or retaliation and referred the national origin claim to the EEOC, who has jurisdiction on national origin claims involving employers with more than 14 employees.

Thereafter, Ugochi filed a complaint with OCAHO alleging she was fired because her employer asked for excessive documentation in the I-9 and E-Verify process. The employer responded that it was entitled to sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment and had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for her termination - she failed a background check.

In analyzing the employer’s defenses, OCAHO noted the employer in question is the North Dakota State Hospital, a state agency. Due to the employer being a state agency, one must review the 11th Amendment which states, “The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court “has consistently held that an unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another State.” There are two exceptions to a state’s immunity from suit under the 11th Amendment. The first exception is where Congress has statutorily abrogated such immunity by “clear and unmistakable language.” The second exception exists when the state has expressly waived its immunity.

OCAHO found sovereign immunity applied to the North Dakota State Hospital, a state agency; thus, it enjoyed immunity from these proceedings pursuant to the 11th Amendment. Neither exception to immunity is present in the instant matter. Accordingly, because Ugochi’s complaint is barred, the Motion to Dismiss was granted.

On a personal note, last week the immigration bar lost a true advocate for immigrants, Yvette Sebelist, my law partner. May she rest in peace.

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