Miami-Dade County

For demanding green cards, Miami-based pizza restaurant franchise must pay civil penalty

A sample green card, from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
A sample green card, from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

The Justice Department has agreed to a settlement with a Miami-based pizza restaurant franchise as a way of resolving an investigation over allegations that the company violated immigration law by demanding that foreign-born legal resident workers produce green cards as proof of employment eligibility but failed to demand a similar document from U.S. citizen workers.

A Justice Department statement issued last week did not say specifically what kind of documents would have been proper to demand from citizens, but the issue was not so much the document but that the non-citizens were singled out for allegedly discriminatory treatment when supervisors demanded to see a green card but did not demand a specific document from citizens.

“The Justice Department is committed to ensuring the rights of lawful U.S. workers to be free from discriminatory barriers based on their citizenship, immigration status, or national origin,” acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the civil rights division said in a statement. “Pizzerias’ responsiveness throughout the course of the investigation assisted in a speedy resolution of this matter.”

The settlement in the Pizzerias LLC case is only the latest in a series of similar cases that the Justice Department brought against certain businesses around the country over the past few years.

In December, for example, the Justice Department reached an agreement resolving claims that 1st Class Staffing LLC, a staffing company in Orem, Utah, discriminated against work-authorized non-U.S. citizens in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

The department’s investigation, conducted by the civil rights division’s office of special counsel for immigration-related unfair employment practices, found that 1st Class Staffing’s Fontana, California, office routinely requested that non-citizens, but not U.S. citizens, provide specific immigration documents to establish their authority to work.

Under the law, all workers — including non-U.S. citizens — must be allowed to choose whichever valid documentation they want to present from lists of acceptable documents to prove their work authorization. It is unlawful for an employer to limit an employee’s choice of documentation because of their citizenship, immigration status or national origin.

In the settlement agreement the Justice Department announced last week with Pizzerias LLC, a pizza restaurant franchise with 31 locations in Miami, the department revealed that it had been investigating the business because of allegations it was discriminating against work-authorized immigrants when checking their work authorization documents.

The department’s investigation concluded that Pizzerias routinely requested that lawful permanent residents produce a specific document — a permanent resident or green card — to prove their work authorization, while not requesting a specific document from U.S. citizens.

Lawful permanent residents often have the same work authorization documents available to them as U.S. citizens, and may choose acceptable documents other than a green card to prove they are authorized to work.

Under the settlement, Pizzerias must pay a civil penalty of $140,000 to the United States, post notices informing workers about their rights under the law’s anti-discrimination provision, train their human resources personnel, and be subject to departmental monitoring and reporting requirements.