Department of Justice Settles Immigration-Related Employment Discrimination Claims Against College

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced in January 2013 that it settled a claim of citizenship and national origin discrimination against Houston Community College (HCC), in lieu of filing suit. The DOJ’s Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) investigated a complaint of hiring discrimination, in the form of requests for specific documentation from non-citizens not requested of U.S. citizens. The OSC concluded that the practice violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which prohibits employment discrimination based on national origin or lawful immigration status. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, HCC will pay a civil penalty, adopt a new process of verifying employment eligibility, and create a fund to compensate prior victims for lost wages.

According to the settlement agreement between the DOJ and HCC, the OSC received a complaint on March 12, 2012 alleging national origin discrimination and other violations of the INA’s anti-discrimination provisions. The OSC’s investigation concluded that HCC had engaged in a practice, for a period of at least two years, that required non-citizens to produce documents during the hiring process demonstrating work authorization. Job applicants that HCC believed to be United States citizens were not required to produce such documentation during the hiring process. Proof of employment eligibility is normally required after hiring, when the employer must complete Form I-9, the Employment Eligibility Verification document. Although it found HCC’s practices to be discriminatory, it did not find that the complainant was a victim of discrimination.

The INA’s anti-discrimination provisions, codified at 8 U.S.C. ยง 1324b, prohibit employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants, with the exception of undocumented immigrants, on the basis of national origin. In the case of U.S. citizens, permanent residents, authorized refugees, asylees, and beneficiaries of certain other immigration programs, the INA prohibits discrimination based on citizenship status. The statute allows employers to favor a U.S. citizen or national over another applicant if their qualifications for the position are otherwise equal. Employers may not require job applicants to produce more documentation than is required by the INA’s employment eligibility verification provisions, if the intent is to intimidate, retaliate against, or place additional burdens on noncitizens.

Under the settlement agreement, signed by HCC’s Acting Chancellor on January 29, 2013, the college will pay civil penalties of $83,600 to the DOJ. It will also provide $20,000 to compensate other victims whose employment was adversely affected by the discriminatory practice since March 10, 2010. HCC must make a good faith effort to locate such individuals and report to OSC with the names of people it identified within ninety days. It must cease the discriminatory practice immediately and refrain from other discriminatory practices. It must provide all employees with information about their rights under the INA, and ensure that all human resources personnel have access to the latest I-9 information and rules. The OSC may inquire about HCC’s progress towards meeting its settlement obligations.

If you need to speak to an employment law attorney in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group at 973-781-1204 or (646) 867-7997.

More Blog Posts:

New York Pharmacy Law Unlawfully Discriminates Based on National Origin and Alienage, According to Second Circuit, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, January 22, 2013
Federal Immigration Laws Protect Employees from Discrimination Based on National Origin, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, January 3, 2013
Jersey City Housekeeper Alleges Discrimination By New York City Billionaire, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, May 17, 2011

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