The Department of Justice today announced that it has reached a settlement agreement with Sam Williamson Farms Inc. (SWF), a strawberry farm in Dover, Florida. The settlement resolves the Department’s investigation into whether SWF violated the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) by preferring to hire H-2A visa holders to harvest its strawberry crop instead of U.S. workers. This is the seventh settlement under the Civil Rights Division’s Protecting U.S. Workers Initiative, which is aimed at targeting, investigating, and taking enforcement actions against companies that discriminate against U.S. workers in favor of temporary visa workers.
The Department of Justice’s independent investigation concluded that at the end of the 2016-2017 strawberry picking season, SWF informed its existing U.S. workers that it would rely instead on H-2A workers from a farm labor contractor to harvest its strawberries for the next season, and retained a farm labor contractor for the express purpose of obtaining workers with H-2A visas. Ultimately, the strawberry picking positions were filled by more than 300 H-2A workers and no U.S. workers. Refusing to recruit or hire available and qualified U.S. workers because of their citizenship status violates the INA.
“While H-2A workers can provide employers with necessary labor when there are insufficient numbers of interested U.S. workers, employers cannot deter or overlook qualified and available U.S. workers based on their citizenship status. This agreement reflects the Civil Rights Division’s continued commitment to protecting U.S. workers from discrimination,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division.
Under the settlement, SWF will pay $60,000 in civil penalties to the United States, pay up to $85,000 in back pay to eligible U.S. workers, and conduct enhanced U.S. worker recruitment and advertising for future positions. The settlement also requires SWF to train employees on the requirements of the INA’s anti-discrimination provision and be subject to departmental monitoring and reporting requirements.
Under the Protecting U.S. Workers Initiative, the Civil Rights Division has opened dozens of investigations, filed one lawsuit, and reached settlement agreements with seven employers. Since the Initiative’s inception, employers have agreed to pay or have distributed a combined total of more than $1.1 million in back pay to affected U.S. workers and civil penalties to the United States. The Division has also increased its collaboration with other federal agencies to combat discrimination and abuse by employers using temporary visa workers.
The Division’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER) is responsible for enforcing the anti-discrimination provision of the INA. Among other things, the statute prohibits discrimination based on citizenship status and national origin in hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee; unfair documentary practices; retaliation; and intimidation.
More information on how employers can avoid citizenship status discrimination is available here. For more information about protections against employment discrimination under immigration laws, call IER’s worker hotline at 1-800-255-7688 (1-800-237-2515, TTY for hearing impaired); call IER’s employer hotline at 1-800-255-8155 (1-800-237-2515, TTY for hearing impaired); sign up for a free webinar; email IER@usdoj.gov; or visit IER’s English and Spanish websites. Subscribe to GovDelivery to receive updates from IER.
Applicants or employees who believe they were subjected to discrimination based on their citizenship, immigration status, or national origin in hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee; or discrimination in the employment eligibility verification process (Form I-9 and E-Verify) based on their citizenship, immigration status, or national origin; or retaliation can file a charge or contact IER’s worker hotline for assistance.