DOJ Announces Settlement of Immigration-Related Discrimination Claims Against Frozen Food Company
The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) recently announced it has reached an agreement with a Minnesota-based frozen food company to resolve immigration-related discrimination claims. The settlement, which resolves allegations the company discriminated against non-U.S. citizens due to their citizenship status, highlights the Biden administration’s ongoing efforts to target and prosecute discriminatory practices in violation of U.S. immigration law.
Allegations of Discrimination Against Non-U.S. Workers
According to the Department of Justice, an investigation revealed that the company routinely engaged in discriminatory practices including requesting work documentation from non-citizens while making no such request of U.S. citizens. Specifically, the company allegedly requested specific documentation issued by the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”). However, under U.S. immigration law, all employees in the United States have the right to choose which documentation to present when demonstrating their legal status to work in this country. Accordingly, these practices violated the anti-discrimination provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”).
The Jan. 10, 2022 announcement outlined the terms of the settlement agreement: the company agreed to pay $40,000.00 in civil penalties, adjust its employment policies to comply with the anti-discrimination policies of the INA, and train its employees to prevent future violations of the law.
Anti-Discrimination Under the Immigration & Nationality Act
The anti-discrimination provisions of the INA can be found at 8 U.S.C § 1324(b) and its associated regulations at 28 C.F.R. Part 44. These provisions prohibit discrimination based on citizenship status and national origin in the hiring, firing, recruitment, and referral of workers for a fee. The provisions also outlaw unfair documentary practices, such as the one involved in this case. Finally, these laws make it illegal to retaliate against or intimidate protected persons who file a discrimination-related complaint against the employer. Failure to comply with these laws can result in prosecution, leading to civil penalties and other sanctions.
The DOJ Civil Rights Division’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (“IER”) enforces the anti-discrimination provisions of the INA. Under the Biden administration, enforcement of these laws has been steady. According to Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ Civil Rights Division, “[e]mployers must allow all employees – U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens alike – to provide any valid, acceptable document of their choice to prove their permission to work. The Civil Rights Division will continue to investigate and take action to stop unlawful discrimination on the basis of citizenship, immigration status, and national origin.”
DOJ Enforcement of Discrimination Claims
This announcement comes in the wake of a series of similar discrimination-related settlements announced by the Department of Justice late last year, as chronicled in an earlier post on this blog. As the Biden administration enters a new year, it appears to be continuing its efforts to enforce the anti-discrimination provisions of the INA. To avoid similar legal challenges, U.S. companies must exercise the utmost care in implementing their hiring practices to ensure compliance with immigration law.