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DOJ settles with Oakland group in citizenship discrimination case

It’s not just businesses that must comply with laws prohibiting discrimination against employees and applicants based on characteristics that are protected. That includes citizenship status – provided that the applicant or employee provides the appropriate documentation to show that they can work in this country legally.

Any organization that hires people must abide by the same laws. One such organization in Oakland has learned that lesson the hard way. This month, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a settlement agreement with a community organization that provides youth services.

Employee who had valid documentation was fired

According to the DOJ, the organization violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) by refusing to accept valid documentation provided by a new employee who is a non-citizen and requiring unnecessary documentation that they were unable to provide. The employee was terminated. The DOJ says the organization also fired another employee who investigated and tried to prevent the discrimination.

The settlement cost the organization a relatively small amount in fines (just over $10,000), which is the maximum allowed in this case. The organization also paid the two terminated employees their lost wages. It’s been ordered to revise its employment policies and train its employees on how to lawfully determine a person’s ability to work in this country. It will be monitored by the DOJ for the next two years.

Discrimination “based on citizenship, immigration status or national origin” is prohibited

The Assistant Attorney General who oversees the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division (where the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) is located explained, “Employers cannot discriminate against workers when verifying their permission to work based on their citizenship, immigration status or national origin….[and] the Justice Department will steadfastly protect those who assert rights on behalf of themselves or others under this law.”

If you believe that an employer or potential employer has discriminated against you or wrongfully terminated you based on your immigration status, refused to accept your documentation showing your ability to work in the U.S. and/or discriminated against you based on your citizenship status or national origin, it may be wise to seek legal guidance to protect your rights. This can also help protect the rights of others.