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Immigration-Based Discrimination Claims Against Popular Food Chain


Panda Express, which has more than 1,800 restaurants across the country, has recently settled a claim of immigration-related discrimination brought by its employees. The company was under investigation by the Justice Department for alleged violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) related to reverification of the employees’ permission to work.

DOJ investigation uncovered immigration-based discrimination

After investigating the company, the DOJ concluded that they had required its workers, who were lawful permanent residents, to re-establish their work authorization when their Permanent Resident Cards expired. However, Panda Express did not have the same requirement for U.S. citizens when their document expired. They also require non-U.S. citizen workers to provide additional immigration documents despite the fact that they had already provided sufficient documentation. These actions are violations the INA prohibits when the requests for documents are based on an employee’s citizenship status or national origin.

Government oversight of immigration and employment matters

The Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) of the Department of Justice, formerly known as the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, is the agency tasked with enforcing the anti-discrimination provision of the INA. The INA is a federal statute that prohibits discrimination based on citizenship, immigration status, and national origin in hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee, among other things. It also establishes what is considered unfair documentary practices, retaliation, and intimidation in the workplace.

Panda Express settles the claims with the DOJ

A civil penalty of $400,000 was imposed as a part of the settlement with Panda Express. The company has also agreed to create a $200,000 back pay fund to compensate workers who suffered lost wages as a result of the company’s practices.

Panda Express has also agreed to train its human resources personnel regarding the requirements and prohibitions of the INA’s anti-discrimination provision. Finally, the company will be subject to monitoring and reporting requirements established by the DOJ.

What does this mean for your employer?

Employers should take steps to ensure that whatever reverification practice they have in place comply with the INA’s anti-discrimination provisions, or they could be facing a lawsuit and steep penalties. If a company is investigated for such conduct, it would be wise for them to cooperate and, upon a finding of violations, commit to compensating employees who were unfairly deprived of wages because of these violations.

What to do if you believe you are a victim of immigration-related discrimination

Applicants or employees who believe they may have been subjected to different documentary requirements than other employees based on their citizenship, immigration status, or national origin should discuss their situation with an employment discrimination attorney as soon as possible. The same is true if they have been subjected to any other form of discrimination based on their citizenship, immigration status, or national origin, such as in hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral.

Specifically, any work-authorized, non-U.S. citizens employed at Panda Express between May 31, 2014, and June 28, 2017, who lost wages due to Panda Express’ documentary practices may be eligible for back pay for the wages they should have earned in the absence of the discrimination.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Michel | King. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!

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