A company recently found itself in trouble after not accurately assessing the legal status of its employees.
Business owners must balance carefully verifying new hires’ work eligibility with improperly terminating or disqualifying individuals who are work eligible, in compliance with federal law. A North Carolina company learned this lesson the hard way. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on November 29, 2012 that it had reached a settlement with Salisbury, N.C.-based Gamewell Mechanical Inc. resolving claims of discrimination in the termination of three of the company’s employees.
Gamewell, a subsidiary of Woodfin Heating, Inc. which fabricates and installs heating and air conditioning systems, fired the employees after incorrectly assuming that they were undocumented foreign nationals. The three were actually U.S. citizens.
Managers at Gamewell were acting on information that six of its other employees were undocumented foreign nationals. They believed that the three U.S. citizens were likewise unauthorized to work in the U.S. and terminated them. One of the three employees complained and as a result of the DOJ investigation which followed, federal investigators charged the company with violations of the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
The provision prohibits employers from discriminating against any individual in the hiring, or the discharging of the individual from employment because of such individual’s national origin, or in some cases, such individual’s citizenship status.
The terms of the settlement require Gamewell Mechanical to pay the fired workers $10,560 in back pay and pay civil penalties amounting to $9,600 to the U.S. government. The company must also educate its human resources employees on their responsibility to avoid discrimination when verifying the employment eligibility of prospective employees. Gamewell will be subject to reporting and compliance monitoring by the DOJ for a period of 18 months.
“The anti-discrimination provision protects work-authorized individuals from being treated differently in employment based on discriminatory assumptions about their status, said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division is fully committed to vigorously enforcing the law.”
Stewart Rabinowitz is President of Rabinowitz & Rabinowitz, P.C. Mr. Rabinowitz is Board Certified in Immigration and Nationality Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. To contact a Dallas immigration lawyer or Dallas immigration attorney visit Rabinowitzrabinowitz.com