Justice News

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, July 20, 2012
Justice Department Settled Claims of Discrimination Against United Natural Foods Inc.

The Justice Department announced today that it reached a settlement agreement with United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI), resolving allegations that the company discriminated under the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), when it impermissibly “reverified” the work authority of lawful permanent residents and required some non-citizen workers to provide specific Form I-9 documentation.

In a charge filed with the department, the charging party, a lawful permanent resident, alleged that UNFI improperly terminated him after he failed to produce an unexpired lawful permanent resident card (also known as a “green card”) in connection with an erroneous reverification of his employment eligibility. The charging party had presented proper work authorization documentation at the time of hire, and UNFI had no reason to suspect that his documentation was not genuine. The employee was permanently work-authorized, but lost three weeks’ worth of wages as a result of UNFI’s practice. The department’s investigation revealed that UNFI reverified the documentation of similarly situated lawful permanent residents when their documentation expired but did not reverify expired documentation of U.S. citizens. The anti-discrimination provision prohibits treating employees differently in the employment eligibility verification and reverification processes based on citizenship or national origin.

In response to the department’s investigation, UNFI conducted an internal audit and undertook immediate corrective action to address and rectify its employment eligibility verification policies and practices. As part of its corrective action, UNFI rehired the charging party and gave him full back pay several months before the department had made its finding of discrimination. Under the settlement agreement, the company agrees to pay $3,190 in civil penalties to the United States, to conform all of its actions to ensure compliance with the INA’s anti-discrimination provision and to train its human resources personnel about the company’s responsibility to avoid discrimination in the employment eligibility verification process.

“The Civil Rights Division is pleased that UNFI has prioritized compliance with the Immigration and Nationality Act’s (INA), and we encourage all employers to evaluate their policies and practices to ensure compliance with the INA’s anti-discrimination provision,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices is responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination provision of the INA, which protects work authorized individuals from employment discrimination on the basis of citizenship status or national origin discrimination, including discrimination in hiring and the employment eligibility verification process.

For more information about protections against employment discrimination under the immigration law, visit OSC’s website at www.justice.gov/crt/about/osc or email osccrt@usdoj.gov.

For more information about protections against employment discrimination under the immigration laws, call the OSC’s worker hotline at 1-800-255-7688 (1-800-237-2525, TDD for hearing impaired), call the OSC’s employer hotline at 1-800-255-8155 (1-800-362-2735, TDD for hearing impaired), sign up for a no-cost webinar at www.justice.gov/crt/osc/webinars.php, email osccrt@usdoj.gov or visit the website at www.justice.gov/crt/about/osc.

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