By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

The Department of Justice, through the Civil Rights Division’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER), has entered into a settlement agreement with Northgate Gonzalez Markets Inc., a California-based supermarket chain, and Northgate Gonzalez Financial LLC d/b/a Prospera Gonzalez, an affiliated payday loan company (collectively, Northgate). The settlement resolves a claim that Northgate discriminated against a worker with asylum status when reverifying his eligibility to work in the United States and fired him when he did not satisfy the company’s discriminatory requests.

Based on its investigation, the IER concluded Northgate did not allow a worker with asylum status to provide his choice of valid documentation to show that he was authorized to work in the United States. Instead, when the employee offered to present an unrestricted Social Security card, which is legally sufficient to prove work authorization during the reverification process, Northgate rejected the document, demanded a document the worker did not have, and fired the worker when he did not present it.

The Immigration and Nationality Act’s (INA) anti-discrimination provision prohibits employers from requesting more or different documents than necessary to prove work authorization based on employees’ citizenship, immigration status or national origin. Instead, in the INA, Congress determined that all work-authorized individuals, regardless of citizenship status, may choose which valid, legally acceptable documents to present to demonstrate their ability to work in the United States.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Northgate will pay $22,165 in back pay to the injured worker plus accumulated interest; pay a civil penalty of $1,928 to the United States; revise and/or create employment policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of citizenship, immigration status, and national origin in the hiring and firing process, during the Form I-9 verification and reverification process, and in the E-Verify process; post a copy of the Form I-9 Lists of Acceptable Documents for employees to read, and provide individual copies to new hires at the same time as Respondent asks them to complete Section 1 of the Form I-9; train its relevant employees about the requirements of the INA’s anti-discrimination provision, including reading the M-274 Handbook for Employers and attending a webinar provided by the IER; post IER’s poster, “If You Have The Right to Work”, in English and Spanish; and be subject to departmental monitoring for two years.

If you want to know more information on issues related to OCAHO and employer immigration compliance, I recommend you read The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, a book I co-authored with Greg Siskind, and available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.