Rugmaker accused of asking for too much citizenship proof

Rugmaker accused of asking for too much citizenship proof

July 19th, 2010 in News

Three months after one carpet maker agreed to pay $18 million to settle claims it didn't do enough to verify the immigration status of its workers, another is being charged with demanding too much hiring documentation.

The U.S. Department of Justice is suing Garland Sales Inc., claiming the Dalton rugmaker discriminated last year against a Spanish-speaking job applicant by demanding he produce a "green card," the federal document that is proof an immigrant is a legal, permanent U.S. resident.

The applicant, Juan R. Alanis, is a U.S. citizen who showed a Georgia driver's license and his Social Security card to Garland's personnel director to verify his citizenship and employment eligibility.

In an eight-page complaint against the company, the Executive Office for Immigration Review charged that Garland Sales improperly withdrew its job offer to Mr. Alanis after he told a company interpreter he didn't have a green card because he is a U.S. citizen.

Katherine Baldwin, with the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, said the driver's license and unrestricted Social Security card he showed should have been adequate documentation. She said asking for more documentation "discriminates against individuals based on citizenship status."

Rick Garland, owner of the 36-year-old rug manufacturer, declined to discuss the details of the lawsuit allegation. But he said he "emphatically denies" any racial discrimination by his company.

"We definitely don't discriminate by any means," Mr. Garland said.

The government charges that the hiring practices for Garland, which employs from 250 to 300 workers a week, "constitute a pattern of document abuse" that is discriminatory.

The civil action seeks lost wages and penalties totaling $4,300 for each offense like that alleged by Mr. Alanis.

OTHER LAWSUITS

In April, the world's biggest floorcovering company, Mohawk Industries, agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by former employees who charged that the company hired illegal workers by failing to adequately document their citizenship. Mohawk denied the allegations but will pay $18 million to settle the 6-year-old lawsuit.

Robert Divine, an immigration lawyer in Chattanooga, said Garland and other carpet makers are wary after Mohawk's experience about not doing enough to screen potential illegal immigrants.

"It's always been a Catch-22 for employers," Mr. Divine said. They have to ask for enough documentation so they won't be fined for failing to confirm employment eligibility. But then they risk suits for discrimination, said Mr. Divine, who previously was chief counsel for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 prohibits employers from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and requires companies to verify applicants' eligibility through the "I-9" form.

But the Immigration and Nationality Act also guarantees job seekers the right to seek employment without the added burden of special rules or document demands based on their citizenship status or national origin.

"The Obama administration has been much more active in enforcing the immigration law's anti-discrimination provisions than the Bush administration," Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law scholar at Cornell University, told The Wall Street Journal last week.

The Justice Department is boosting its staff of immigration-related hiring discrimination investigators by 25 percent this year, the Journal reported.

In early July, the government and Macy's department stores settled out of court on allegations that a store in Orlando, Fla., discriminated against a legal permanent resident by requesting more work authorization documents than are required.

Macy's has agreed to train its human resources employees in the Orlando area about federal protections for workers against citizenship status and national origin discrimination.


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