By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

In Zu v. Avalon Rehabilitation Center,14 OCAHO no. 1396 (Oct. 2020), the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) found the employer did not discriminate against the employee for several reasons, including the doctrine of collateral estoppel applied due to a prior decision in federal District Court and the 10th Circuit of Appeals.

In March 2014, Zu filed a charge of discrimination with the Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor Division of the Utah Labor Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). She then filed a complaint in federal district court alleging, among other claims, national origin discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. On September 24, 2015, Zu filed an OCAHO complaint alleging that Avalon Rehabilitation Center discriminated against her based on her national origin and citizenship status when it refused to rehire her and engaged in retaliation in violation of § 1324b.

An OCAHO Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) stayed OCAHO proceedings due to the filing of a discrimination claim before the EEOC and the case was pending before the United States District Court for the District of Utah.

Avalon Rehabilitation Center asserts the District Court’s decision granting summary judgment in its Zu’s national origin claim is a final adjudication on the merits. Furthermore, the 10th Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision. The ALJ agreed. Thus, Avalon Rehabilitation Center argues under the doctrine of collateral estoppel (issue preclusion) that Zu’s OCAHO must be dismissed.

The doctrine of collateral estoppel bars Zu from litigating an issue that has already been decided in a former proceeding.” U.S. v. Split Rail Fencing, 11 OCAHO no. 1216, 4 (2014). For collateral estoppel to foreclose an issue in this case, Avalon Rehabilitation Center must show: (1) the issue decided in the prior adjudication is identical with the one presented in the later action; (2) there was a final judgment on the merits in the prior action; (3) the party against whom collateral estoppel is asserted was a party or in privity with a party to the prior adjudication; and (4) the party against whom collateral estoppel is asserted had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in question in the prior action. Id. at 5; Mackentire v. Ricoh Corp., 5 OCAHO no. 746, 191, 196 (1995).

OCAHO found:
Zu’s OCAHO claims are based on the same facts as her Title VII claim. Avalon Rehabilitation Center asserts the same reasons for not rehiring Zu in both the Title VII and OCAHO cases…. The District Court already found Avalon Rehabilitation Center presented legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for not rehiring Zu and found Zu did not prove that Avalon Rehabilitation Center’s reasons were pretextual. Because the Court (OCAHO) would analyze Zu’s citizenship status discrimination claim under the same framework as her Title VII case, the same issues are central to the decision in this action.
OCAHO found the issues in this case are identical to the issues decided in the Title VII case, the parties are identical to the parties in the Title VII case, Complainant had a full and fair opportunity to litigate her claims in the Title VII case, and there has been a final adjudication on the merits in the Title VII case.

Thus, OCAHO determined collateral estoppel barred Zu’s citizenship status discrimination claim.

If you are concerned about your company’s immigration compliance, I invite you to read The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, a book that I co-authored with Greg Siskind, available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.