Potato Grower Reaches $100,000 Settlement with Justice Department for I-9 Compliance Violations

Washington Potato Company, a private grower and processor of potatoes and other vegetables, reached a $100,000 agreement on Thursday with the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), settling claims of discrimination in the company’s Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification procedures.

The settlement ends a multi-year Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigation, which was triggered when ICE randomly picked the potato farming company for a Form I-9 worksite inspection.  According to a DOJ press release, the investigation revealed that

Washington Potato routinely requested that work-authorized non-U.S. citizens present specific documents to confirm their citizenship status, such as Permanent Resident Cards or Employment Authorization Documents, while verifying their authorization to work . . . but did not subject U.S. citizens to such requests.

Washington Potato’s actions, while neither willful nor intentional, were sufficient to establish violations of the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which prohibits employers from subjecting employees to different or unnecessary documentation demands based on an employee’s citizenship, immigration status, or national origin.

In addition to a $100,000 civil penalty, the DOJ agreement requires the company to train its staff, post notices informing workers about their rights under the INA’s anti-discrimination provision, and be subject to departmental monitoring and reporting requirements.

To all employers: beware and be prepared for your random ICE worksite inspection.  To learn more about the this post or any other immigration matter, feel free to contact me, Raymond G. Lahoud, at rglahoud@nmmlaw.com.

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