An Overview Of The Office Of Special Counsel For Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices

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The Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) investigates and prosecutes employers charged with national origin and citizenship status discrimination, as well as document abuse and retaliation under the antidiscrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Congress created OSC because of concern that making employers subject to civil and criminal sanctions for knowingly hiring individuals unauthorized to work in the United States might result in discrimination, either against those who look or sound "foreign" or who are not U.S. citizens.

Enforcement

Injured parties file charges of alleged national origin or citizenship status discrimination in hiring, firing, recruitment or referral for a fee, document abuse, or retaliation directly with OSC's Washington, D.C. office. A staff attorney investigates charges with the assistance of an investigator. The staff attorney is responsible for handling all matters pertaining to the litigation of meritorious claims.

Complaints are tried before Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) that are specially trained to hear IRCA discrimination cases. Pre-trial matters are generally handled in accordance with rules of civil procedure, and involve discovery, depositions and pleadings. The administrative hearing is conducted much like a civil trial. Each side files post-hearing briefs and the ALJ's decision is directly appealable to a federal court of appeals. Settlements or successful adjudications may result in civil penalty assessments, back pay awards, hiring orders and the imposition of other remedies.

OSC also initiates independent investigations based on information developed during the individual charge investigations or from leads provided by other government agencies or the general public. Independent investigations normally involve employers with alleged discriminatory policies that potentially affect many employees or applicants. These investigations can result in complaints alleging a pattern and practice of discriminatory activity.

Education

In addition, OSC conducts an outreach and education program aimed at educating employers, potential victims of discrimination and the general public about their rights and responsibilities under INA's antidiscrimination and employer sanctions provisions. Each year OSC awards grants to nonprofit organizations across the country to conduct local public education campaigns. Additionally, aside from their investigatory and litigation duties, OSC attorneys participate in many public education and outreach activities. This includes making presentations at conferences, seminars and meetings held by interested groups regarding employer and employee rights and obligations under INA. Other components of the outreach program include a national public awareness campaign which includes wide distribution of educational materials, television, radio and print public service announcements. Additionally, an early intervention program has proved successful and cost-effective by solving situations before they go to litigation. Under this program, OSC attorneys speak with employers and workers by phone, explain the nuances of the law and work out the problem. This intervention action often results in the worker either being hired or not being fired. In FY 1998, 648 telephone interventions took place.

Partnerships

OSC, in partnership with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance, Women's Bureau, and Wage & Hour Division -- other agencies whose missions it is to protect the rights of workers--has conducted workshops in immigrant communities in Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Miami and New York to hear directly form workers about possible complaints of employment discrimination. In addition, it has conducted outreach to employers in various cities in order to increase employer understanding of employers sanctions and the protections against discrimination.

In an effort to increase accessibility to its services and resources, OSC has signed and/or reinvigorated 50 Memoranda of Understanding with various state and local human rights agencies, where individuals can now obtain OSC information and file charges of immigration related employment discrimination.

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Updated August 6, 2015

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