Miami-Dade schools settles Justice claim of employment discrimination

Miami-Dade County Public Schools has settled a U.S. Department of Justice claim that the country’s fourth-largest school district discriminated against job applicants who are immigrants.

The district cast the allegations as essentially a paperwork policy flub done in the name of efficiency, and without any intent to discriminate.

Miami-Dade educates students in a community where more than half of residents are foreign-born, according to Census data. The leader of the country’s fourth-largest school system, Alberto Carvalho, is himself an immigrant from Portugal.

An investigation by the Civil Rights Division found that the school system asked immigrants to provide specific documents to prove their employment eligibility, whereas U.S. citizens were not asked, according to a statement released by the Justice Department. Earlier this month, the school system agreed to pay a $90,000 civil citation to settle the issue without admitting any wrongdoing.

Deputy School Board Attorney Luis Garcia offered a different explanation, saying the school system asked all applicants for specific documents – like a driver's license – to make the hiring process more efficient. But federal law requires employers to accept a range of different official documents.

“There is no evidence that we know or are aware of that there was any intent to discriminate against any applicant on the basis of their immigration status,” he said.

Garcia said the investigation was prompted by an automatic system that recognized many of the district’s applicants were submitting the same documents.

The Civil Rights began investigating the district in September 2014. Miami-Dade’s practice dates back until at least September 2012, according to the settlement agreement.

In a statement, Vanita Gupta, the head of the Civil Rights Division, said: “Employers must ensure that their human resources staff understand proper hiring practices. Promoting compliance is especially important to ensure that workers are not excluded due to discriminatory treatment.”

In addition to the civil penalty, which will be paid over three years, the district has to establish a $125,000 fund compensate anyone who may have lost wages because of the alleged discrimination. Anyone eligible to be paid should receive notification from the district within the next three months.

Also, federal officials must be allowed to conduct trainings regarding workers’ rights in local high schools and adult education centers.

Christina Veiga: 305-376-2029, @cveiga