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Farmland Foods Inc. Sued for Discriminatory Work Authorization Verification Practices

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The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced yesterday that it sued Farmland Foods Inc. after an investigation of the company's Monmouth, Illinois, plant revealed a disparity between the documentation required to verify work authorization for US citizen candidates and non-US citizen candidates. In a press release, the DOJ noted that they had evidence that Farmland required more documentation from non-US citizens and some foreign born US citizens than is required under federal law.

The federal law in question is §274A(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). This section provides the work authorization verification requirements that employers must abide by with all job applicants. Specifically, it requires that employers sign a form stating that the person that they employ is authorized to work after examining the person's US passport, resident alien card (green card), or alien registration card. If the applicant lacks those documents, the employer can examine the applicant's social security card but must look at the applicant's driver's license or similar identification document to make sure that the two identities match.

After the employer examines the documents and signs their form, the law requires that the applicant sign a form stating that they are a US citizen, a legal permanent resident or an alien who has received work authorization. If an employer does not abide by the requirements of §274A(a)(1)(B), it can be fined between $100 and $1000 per violation.

The alleged Farmland Foods violation is not of the work authorization verification provision but rather a violation of §274B(a)(1) and (a)(6), which prohibit the use of unfair employment practices that hold noncitizens to different standards than citizens. In this case, the employer is alleged to have engaged in an unfair employment practice by requiring more documentation from noncitizens than is required by the law while not holding American citizens to the same standard.

Regardless of whether the Farmland Foods plant in Monmouth, Illinois was engaging in discriminatory employment practices, this case highlights how narrow the line that an employer must walk in the area of work authorization verification. If the employer does not abide by the law and does not get the required documentation from the workers, then they could be liable for up to $1000 per violation. However, if the employer is not clear on the law and requires too much documentation from non-US citizen employees, then they could be open to suit for discrimination.

If you are not clear what the law is, I-9 work authorization verification can seem like a catch-22. The Immigration and Nationality Act is confusing. Whether you are an employer who wants to make sure that you are abiding by the law or are an employee who thinks that you have been asked to provide too much information to your employer, you should talk to the immigration specialists at the Hacking Immigration Law. We have helped provide answers for many clients with the same questions that you have. Contact us today by calling toll-free at 1-314-961-8200 or by filling out the contact information form on the website.

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