The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it reached a settlement agreement with a Texas-based harvesting company. The agreement resolves claims that the employer discriminated against U.S. citizens in favor of H-2A visa workers for harvesting positions, violating the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). In addition, this settlement will require the company to pay civil penalties to the government, back pay and interest to affected workers, and be subject to additional measures to ensure compliance with federal law in the future.
According to the DOJ’s investigation, the incident began when the harvesting company offered two brothers, who are U.S. citizens, a position harvesting corn. However, the employer told them the position was no longer available. Instead, the company proposed jobs working in a warehouse for lower wages. In its investigation of the incident, the DOJ found that the company would only employ H-2A visa workers for harvesting positions during the harvesting season.
However, with few exceptions, the H-2A visa program requires employers to offer positions to qualified U.S. workers. As a result, foreign national workers may only fill temporary agricultural positions when necessary. Failing to hire skilled U.S. workers in favor of temporary work visas violates the INA’s anti-discrimination provisions. These provisions forbid employers from discriminating against workers based on their citizenship, immigration status, and national origin in hiring, firing, or recruitment decisions.
According to Kristen Clarke, the Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, employers who engage in unlawful discrimination against U.S. workers by giving an advantage to temporary visa workers will face repercussions. Furthermore, the Assistant Attorney General stressed how the Justice Department would continue enforcing the INA’s anti-discrimination provision. The Justice Departments will ensure employers do not unlawfully deny employment to workers based on their citizenship status, regardless of whether those workers are U.S. citizens or immigrants with permission to work in the United States.
The settlement agreement will require the employer to pay a civil penalty of $4,250 and provide back pay and interest. The fines the employer will pay the brothers totals $14,165.10. The employer will also post notices informing workers of their rights under the INA and train its staff in its provisions. The employer will also be subject to federal oversight for the following three years.
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