Discriminating Against Non-US Citizens During Employment Eligibility Verification Process Costs Company $250,000
Author: Melissa A. Silver, XpertHR Legal Editor
On January 7, 2013, the US Department of Justice announced that it reached an agreement with Centerplate, Inc., one of the of the largest hospitality companies in the world, to resolve claims that the company discriminated against non-US citizens during the employment eligibility verification process in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The agreement requires that Centerplate pay $250,000 in civil penalties. This is the third largest settlement amount ever paid under the INA's antidiscrimination provision.
The Justice Department's investigation revealed that for the past three years Centerplate "engaged in a pattern or practice of treating work-eligible non-US citizens differently than US citizens during the INA's employment eligibility verification process." Centerplate's discriminatory practices included requiring specific eligibility documents issued by the Department of Homeland Security from non-US citizens.
In addition to the monetary penalty, Centerplate also agreed to compensate any individuals who lost wages as a result of the company's discriminatory practices. Centerplate further agreed to antidiscrimination training provided by the Justice Department and to have its employment eligibility verification practices monitored for three years.
Advice for Employers
This agreement is a prime example of an employer's potential exposure to liability if it does not lawfully engage in the employment eligibility verification process. Although employers need to hire only an authorized workforce, they cannot be overzealous in their verification practices. Therefore, employers must ensure that they do not demand specific documentation from an employee verifying his or her eligibility for employment. Further, employers must avoid making hiring, retention or termination decisions based on an individual's actual or perceived citizenship status, national origin or native language. Employers must ensure that they treat both US citizens and non-US citizens alike during the employment eligibility and verification process employers. Otherwise, as seen in this case, penalizing or discriminating against authorized workers can expose an employer to significant monetary penalties.