On Nov 01 2010

Hospital System Agrees to pay more than $257,000 to Settle Allegations of Immigration-Related Employment Discrimination in the I-9 Process

As further evidence of increased enforcement efforts by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), its Office of Special Counsel for Unfair Immigration-Related Employment Practices (“OSC”) has just announced that it reached a the settlement agreement with Catholic Healthcare West (CHW) to resolve allegations that it discriminated against non-US citizens by requiring them to provide more documentation of work authorization than is required for the purposes of the Form I-9.

This type of violation is often referred to as document abuse, a violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) which prohibits employers from imposing different or greater employment-eligibility verification (I-9) standards on the basis of a worker’s citizenship status.

Under the terms of the settlement, CHW has agreed to pay $257 ,000 in civil penalties as well as $1,000 in back pay to the charging party. The OSC reported that this is largest amount of civil penalties ever paid to resolve such allegations. Nor do the fines and the potential for additional back-pay end there. As part of the agreement, CHW has also agreed to complete a review (conducted by employees who are independent of the routine I-9 process) of I-9s for all non-US citizens and naturalized citizens hired at all CHW hospitals and medical centers to identify each instance of over-documentation and whether employees suffered lost wages due to the document abuse. CHW agreed to issue progress reports on the review every 60 days and to provide back pay to make whole any employees who suffered lost wages as a result of document abuse within 10 days of the report. CHW also agreed to provide to OSC full documentation relating to the review as well as a final report to be reviewed by OSC to determine whether CHW was in full compliance. CHW also agreed to implement a detailed system-wide written policy describing nondiscriminatory employment eligibility verification procedures and to conduct I-9 training with annual updates.

Such actions by OSC against employers—including Universities and Hospitals—are not new. As the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has stepped up I-9 audits, so has OSC increased enforcement of antidiscrimination rules as they relate to the I-9 process. As previously reported, for example, OSC recently filed suit alleging that John Jay College (“John Jay”) discriminated against non-US citizens by requiring them to provide more documentation of work authorization than is required for the purposes of the Form I-9. That lawsuit alleges that John Jay engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination, as at least 103 other people were also required to provide documentation beyond what was required and it seeks penalties of $1100 for each individual, in addition to compensation for each person who was impacted by the alleged discriminatory practice. Indeed, as we discussed previously, OSC also entered into an agreement with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) to share E-Verify information. Specifically, under the agreement, the USCIS will share data obtained from queries run through E-Verify with OSC, which will allow OSC to identify potential violations of the anti-discrimination provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. USCIS will also provide employer information to OSC, as necessary, when employers have engaged in potential misuse or abuse of E-Verify.

In light of these recent OSC enforcement actions, and the recent information sharing agreement, it is clear that the issue of discrimination in employment verification is a focus of both USCIS and DOJ. Employers should discuss I-9 compliance with experienced legal counsel and take all steps to ensure that employees responsible for I-9 completion are aware of the anti-discrimination provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. These steps include not only training employees on the “nuts and bolts” of these processes, but also training related to potential discrimination claims.

For more information, contact Elise Fialkowski at Efialkowski@klaskolaw.com.