By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law
After a lull in published decisions, the Office of Chief Administration Hearing Officer (OCAHO) has recently issued several decisions, including U.S. v. Solutions Group International, LLC, 12 OCAHO no. 1288 (October 2016), where the employer was ordered to pay $56,150 in penalties.

Solutions Group is a private security firm in Beverly Hills, California, where it employs less than 100 employees. After Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) served a Notice of Inspection, Solutions Group failed to provide an I-9 form for 31 employees to ICE in their response. As for other I-9 forms provided, ICE alleged 53 were not properly completed in section 2 by Solutions Group. These violations consisted of no second page of the two-page I-9 form, and a failure to complete the employer attestation in section 2.

Because of these determinations, ICE issued a two-count complaint – I - failure to prepare/present I-9 forms and II - failure to properly complete Section 2. ICE determined the penalty should be $86,394. ICE determined the penalty by assessing a baseline fine of $935 for each violation, based on over 50% of the I-9 forms being in violation of the law. It also aggravated the penalties by 5% each for lack of good faith and the seriousness of the violations; thus, each violation equaled $1028.50. Even though Solutions Group was a small employer with no unauthorized workers and no history of violations, ICE treated these as neutral factors as opposed to mitigating factors.

Solutions Group conceded the violations but offered several affirmative defenses, including ICE violated its Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights, and the penalties were excessive, especially in light of the company’s poor financial situation. Solutions Group asserted its constitutional rights were violated by ICE’s selective enforcement of employer sanctions. However, Solutions Group provided no evidence to support its assertions; thus, this defense failed.

OCAHO did find that Solutions Group was deserving of 5% mitigation for being a small business. Furthermore, OCAHO stated the company’s poor rate of compliance did not demonstrate a lack of good faith; therefore, this was not an aggravating factor. OCAHO agreed Solutions Group committed serious violations for which a 5% aggravation was added.

Although ICE was not persuaded by Solutions Group’s inability to pay defense, OCAHO found some support for the proposition. Based on the company’s inability to pay and leniency toward small businesses, OCAHO reduced the penalties to $700 per violation in Count I and $650 per violation in Count II. Overall, OCAHO ordered Solutions Group to pay $56,150.

Even though Solutions Group was unsuccessful in most of its defenses, it still received a reduction in the penalties of almost 30%. This is a normal reduction because of litigation. This decision is another example of the importance of an internal I-9 audit, which presumably would have discovered many of the errors and provided the opportunity to correct some of them without facing penalties.