The U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) announced 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). UNFI is a Rhode Island-based distributor of natural and organic foods and products including Albert’s Organics, Earth Origin’s Market, and Select Nutrition Supplements. UNFI was alleged to have impermissibly re-verified the employment authority of lawful permanent residents and required some non-citizen works to provide specific Form 1-9 documentation.
A lawful permanent resident employed at UNFI alleged that the company improperly terminated him after he failed to produce an unexpired lawful permanent resident card that was requested by UNFI to re-verify his employment eligibility. The employee had presented proper employment authorization documentation at the time of hire. The employer should have known that permanent resident cards with either an expiration date or no expiration date are Form I-9 List A documents that should not be re-verified.
An investigation conducted by the USDOJ revealed that UNFI re-verified the documentation of similarly situated lawful permanent residents when their documentation expired but did not re-verify expired documentation of U.S. citizens. Treating employees differently in the employment eligibility verification/re-verification processes based on citizenship status or national origin is considered discrimination under the anti-discrimination provision of the INA.
Under the settlement agreement between the USDOJ and UNFI, UNFI agreed 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. While this fine is insignificant compared to larger fines that other companies have faced, the costs of defense and compliance are substantial.
Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division said, “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.”
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