DOJ sues farm over citizenship verification requirements

Michael P. Tremoglie Jun. 21, 2012, 7:00am

von Spakovsky

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Rose Acre Farms of Seymour, Ind., is being sued by the Justice Department.

DOJ, which announced the lawsuit Tuesday, alleges Rose Acre asked for more proof of employment eligibility than is required by federal law.

The DOJ said Rose Acre engaged in discriminatory practices against work-authorized non-citizens in the employment eligibility verification process.

The complaint states Rose Acre had a standard practice of subjecting newly hired non-U.S. citizens to unauthorized demands for more, different, or specific documents issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in order to verify employment eligibility, while U.S. citizens were permitted to present their choice of documentation.

According to the DOJ communique, the Immigration and Nationality Act's anti-discrimination provision prohibits employers from placing additional documentary burdens on work-authorized employees during the hiring and employment eligibility verification process based on their citizenship status or national origin.

The complaint, filed in federal court, said Rose Acre purchased an electronic employment eligibility verification software system in June 2009. This may have prompted human resource officials to demand certain documents from non-U.S. citizens, it says.

DOJ wants an injunction against future discrimination by Rose Acre. It also requests there are changes made to Rose Acre's employment verification policies and procedures. Furthermore, DOJ is asking for monetary damages for those harmed by the Rose Acre's actions, as well as civil penalties.

"The INA's anti-discrimination provision requires employers to treat employees equally in the employment eligibility verification process, regardless of citizenship status or national origin," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.

"The department is committed to removing discriminatory hurdles to employment through the enforcement of the anti-discrimination provision."

The Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices is responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination provision of the INA. The INA also protects all work-authorized individuals from discrimination in the employment eligibility verification process and from retaliation.

"The government filed a lawsuit because we would not pay a fine. We would not pay because we did not do anything wrong. Our hiring practices are not discriminatory. We are very disappointed that this is the avenue the government has chosen to take," said Tony Wesner, Rose Acre's Chief Operating Officer.

Wesner said the government is claiming "document abuse." According to him, the government said the company asked for too much paperwork to prove the workers they hired are eligible to work.

This is not the first time this has happened said Hans von Spakovsky, Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He noted that the Maricopa County Community College was sued two years ago for the same thing.

"When the immigration law was passed in the 1990's, part of the compromise between Republicans and Democrats for passage was what Democrats claimed was protection against employers being overzealous about requesting proof of citizenship," he said.

"If the employer requests more identification than the federal government requires or alters the type of identification from what the government said is proof, the government can sue the employer."

Wesner said, "We have cooperated with the government. We are proud of the diversity of our workforce. Forty-five percent is minority and most of that is probably Hispanic."

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