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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

Fruit and Vegetable Processor Agrees to Pay $225,000 to Settle Discrimination Lawsuit

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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.

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